At TeleRead Chris Meadows gives an impassioned appeal for the idea that creativity can be unleashed by looser copyright rules, giving an account of the manga and movie origins of The Castle of Cagliostro.

It’s hard to disagree with him that the ability to riff on Sherlock Holmes can/did release some valuable works. The ability of a copyright owner to suppress even mildly derivative works approaches the scandalous. The original aim of copyright was “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The promotion of science and the useful arts is not possible when copyright owners, often corporate entities backed by vast funds, can stop progress by bringing a law suit (which many artists cannot afford to defend). Maybe that clause from the original law should now be revised to say that the purpose of copyright is “to promote the profitability of corporations and other individuals who own copyrights by securing for as long as these corporate individuals shall deem desirable, the exclusive right to these writings and discoveries.”

Publishing Perspectives reports that a judge has ruled that Moppet Books, a line of children’s books based on well-known copyrights infringe the copyright law. These books do appear to be straightforward simplified editions of the original works, and as such are more justifiably disallowed than new stories which just use the same characters as the original work. Surely a work about Atticus Finch where he gives up the law and fulfills a lifetime’s ambition to ride in the Tour de France ought to be allowed, while maybe a simplified retelling of To kill a mockingbird should legitimately be held to need a license from HarperCollins. The difference is in the transformative nature of the adaptation: but even such works often get into legal difficulties.

America’s on-going love affair with the corporate economy (masquerading as the free market) of course guarantees that in the next few years Congress will manage to get it together to extend the term of copyright even longer. Mickey Mouse is approaching the edge of the public domain precipice. He was “born” in 1928, but won’t fall into the public domain till 2023. Obviously any corporate body would consider 95 years is a totally inadequate term of protection for an asset that still makes money!

Interestingly, shows 274 fan fictions based on Mickey. I guess none of them represents, in  Disney’s lawyers’ minds, a viable commercial threat, or they’d presumably have been forced down.

I still like my three-part proposal for copyright. It has of course a snowball in hell’s chance.

See also Tie-ins and fan fics.