Should copyright protection be infinite? It often seems that that’s the way things are tending. Electronic Frontier Foundation discusses the trend here. Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist, concludes at Copyrights and wrongs: “So, a modest proposal: copyright should last a more-than-generous 30 years, and no longer. The Lord of the Rings would have been in the public domain in 1986, 13 years after Tolkien’s death. He would have been fine and his great trilogy would still have been written. Mickey Mouse would have been in the public domain in 1959. The Undercover Economist, my own first book, which continues to sell nicely enough, would enter the public domain in 2036. (I’d cope.)”. Of course whatever a rational economist may think, it would seem unlikely that Congress will do any such thing. The Digital Reader asks what’s to be done? about a situation we all seem to regard as crazy with corporations taking over from authors as the apparent raison d’être for copyright.
We’ve been down this road before; unsurprisingly some grasping publishers have long cherished hopes of finessing eternal copyright protection for their best selling works. Apparently in the eighteenth century an English “publishing cartel had acted as though perpetual copyright had a basis in common law and had demanded accordingly that others (especially Scots publishers) recognize their exclusive title to texts such as Paradise Lost and Thomson’s The Seasons. In the decision in Donaldson v. Becket in 1774 the Law Lords denied this claim to perpetual copyright: the judgement . . . amounted to a recognition that British literature ‘belonged to the British people’ or at the very least the texts that had stood the test of time, and in the meantime gone out of copyright, did.”*
For a short video from Tech Insider follow this link provided by The Passive Voice. The video will explain why we should look for a further extension of the term of copyright in the next year or two. After all Mickey Mouse will fall into the public domain in eight years — and it’d be positively un-American to stand idly by and let that happen, wouldn’t it?
I have written about term of copyright before. I remain in the Harford camp, in much the same way as I support the preservation of the rain forest. But the cynic in me fears that I may live to see “tree” copyrighted, and some Disney-like organization charging me to go and look at one.
* Deirdre Shauna Lynch: Loving Literature, University of Chicago Press, 2015, p. 37.