CRAVEN: All that’s wrong with current copyright laws
Free Press Music Columnist
Why on earth, when our country is faced with so many problems, the solutions to which rely on people being well-educated in history, science and culture, would we want to live in a society that makes it harder for someone to read certain books, to listen to certain music, to watch certain films?
That’s precisely the world we’ve created for ourselves — and a brand new study lays the blame squarely at the feet of our current copyright laws.
If you’ve followed this column for some time, you know that intellectual property rights is an area of law which has changed a lot during our lifetimes … and not necessarily for the better. Content owners have successfully petitioned Congress to keep ratcheting up the length of copyright protection, maintaining that works which fall into the public domain and are no longer protected by copyright are less likely to be exploited by publishers, music labels or film studios because there is no longer as strong a profit motive for doing so.
But a study published last month by Paul J. Heald of the University of Illinois College of Law firmly suggests that our present copyright laws are actually causing books and music to disappear. As Heald notes in his study, the shocking truth is there are roughly twice as many books to be found on Amazon that were originally published in the 1890s than ones originally published in the 1950s — and this despite the fact that far fewer books were published in the 1890s than in the ’50s!
Heald’s study (which can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network website at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2290181) used a fascinating methodology to determine whether works which are protected by copyright are more or less likely to be available than works now in the public domain — and his results directly contradict those who argue that, minus the market incentives provided by copyright protection, content will disappear. Instead, Heald and his team of researchers conclude: “Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availability,” and “Further attempts to extend the copyright term should be resisted, not encouraged.”
Historically, the entire justification for U.S. copyright law comes from our Constitution, which gave Congress the power to enact copyright protection “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” If research shows that our current laws and the legislative trends that have driven their formation are actually causing the opposite to happen, then we must fight against the powerful, monied interests which are (even as you read these words) planning on lengthening the durations of copyright protection, tightening the clamps on the dissemination of culture and maximizing their profit at the expense of the world’s access to knowledge. This is more than just a matter of protecting Disney’s ability to exploit Mickey Mouse.
If the United States is going to continue to be a superpower, it cannot allow a few powerful corporations to dole out only the small percentage of intellectual content they view as profitable.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook.
Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.
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