Friday, October 12, 2007

Copyright Promotes Creation?

Maybe I'm a little slow on the uptake, but I got to thinking again today about why we have copyright. The constitution says "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;" and I'm okay with that. I'd prefer the "limited Times" actually be limited, and the current term doesn't seem at all limited to me, both in how long it is, and in how it keeps getting longer to prevent anything from falling into the public domain.

But then it struck me. It says copyright is to promote progress. Typically that's interpreted to mean that copyright is intended to encourage creativity, by allowing creators an exclusive market for their creations. Now will somebody please tell me this:

How on earth can I be encouraged to create something more, 70 years after I'm dead?!

Copyright term currently extends to the life of the author plus 70 years. I'd personally prefer a copyright term (preferably registered, but that's another topic) of, say, 20 years plus a 20 year renewal, but I suppose you could make a case for life-of-the-author.

But how, pray tell, can I be encouraged to create something more, after I'm dead? How can granting copyright privileges to my heirs encourage me to continue creating (beyond the grave)? Is it seriously a problem that we wouldn't have 80-yr-olds continuing their art if they didn't know that their grandchildren would be allowed to fight over the proceeds?

If copyright didn't exist, I agree that creation could suffer. Creators would need day jobs, most current full-time creators would create less, and some wouldn't create at all. But in my view, requiring creators to come up with something new every 20-40 years seems like a reasonable balance between giving them opportunity for compensation on the one hand, and allowing for public ownership of created works on the other (think Beethoven, Shakespear, etc., that nobody needs permission to play with).

Yes. I want copyright reform.


Anonymous said...

Copyright law certainly needs reform, but I don't think we have come up with better systems yet, so the flawed system remains.

As long as something resembling the system we have remains in place, extending the copyright for X years beyond the life of the author is a good idea. Many writers do good work in obscurity, sometimes in poverty, only to be discovered after they are dead.

I think the possibility that their children will finally reap the rewards probably matters to some excellent but unknown writers.

djaquay said...

I agree that creators might *like it* if their inheritors continue to reap the benefits of their work, but the question in the law should be: would creators *not create* if they didn't know their kids would inherit the copyright? Copyright was established to promote creativity, which would be successfully accomplished (IMO) with a MUCH shorter term.