European Copyrights for works created 50 years ago are about to expire and a handful of major record labels are lobbying heavily for their extension in order to be aligned with US copyrights and in a sense make our European version of the Mickey Mouse protection act.
As expected, the only activist group that cares for our digital rights, the EFF, is starting a petition to lobby the European Commission (and other relevant groups) to block this extension that is set to rob us of our cultural heritage for the benefit of a bunch of greedy corporations.
You should sign.
Even if you’re not EU Citizen.
And since I’m on this subject let me just state my personal opinion (This is a blog after all).
Copyrights represent a deal, or a promise if you want, between the artist and the goverment. The artist puts some effort in creating something of “artistic value” and the goverment provides him with a limited protection so that he can capitulate on his work. This protection is a form of monopoly that is supposed to spur creativity by giving artists an incentive to create more work. It is not supposed to be a welfare system, as it has ended up today where the grandchildren of famous artists are earning money from the cultural work of their forefathers (How many of you keep getting paid for work you did 50 years ago?). This is not only bad for our culture, but it is counter to the spirit of copyrights.
Not only that, but extending copyrights so much is economically unsound as far too many researches have shown.
Furthermore, if we are to treat Copyrights as “Intellectual property“, shouldn’t the owner have to pay taxes like all of us? Here’s an alternative off the top of my head:
Have automatic copyrights last for 5 years after the day of publication and after that the author has to a fee proportionate to the number of years passed since initial publication in order to keep them from passing to the public domain. This way, the fee would be modest (but significant enough) initially but would grow steeper as the time passed. Thus, the economically viable works could be retained (while also paying the appropriate tax) while the rest would pass to the public domain for the benefit of everyone.
I personally don’t agree that copyrights should last more than 10 years (more than enough to earn from the effort you invested) and only for artistic work; but the previous suggestion is, at least, a better alternative than what we have now.
The problem you see, is not strictly Mickey Mouse or other known works. It’s that the copyright holder tends to possess copyrights to non-economically viable works. He does not release them because, hey, why should he? And he doesn’t publish them because they won’t make any money. This leads to our loss as we cannot anymore share, modify and enjoy our own culture.
- This idea of course excludes absurd things like threatening people posting Cease & Desist letters online from being threatened with copyrights in order to silence them.