This House would cut the length of copyright protection

Copyright is a legal right furnished by governments that provide the creators of new and original works with the exclusive right of use and sale of those works. It protects a wide range of artistic works from literature and dramatic works, to art, music and recordings.[1] This protection usually lasts for a limited length of time. The length of time varies from place to place, but in most jurisdictions it extends for the length of the artist’s life plus fifty years.[2] This proposal would mean significantly cutting the length of copyright significantly to a point where it lasts less than an individual’s lifetime.  

The balancing act between the rights of artists over their work and that of the public to enjoy, consume, learn from, and adapt to that art is one hotly debated across the world. Intellectual property law provides for significant copyright protection, often extending after an artist’s death for decades. Few people disagree that artists should have some control over their work and that they should be able to profit from their output. The question is how long that protection should last. This debate will outline the main arguments for shortening copyright protection and freeing art for the people, and those for preserving the current laws so that the artists may profit fully from their labours.

[1] Intellectual Property Office, “About copyright” http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy/c-about.htm

 

Title 
Overlong copyright protection stifles the creativity and saps the time of artists
Point 

In some instances, when artists achieve success they face the enervating impulse that their achievement brings. They become satisfied and complacent with what they have, robbing them of their demiurgic drive. Worse, and more frequently, successful artists become embroiled in defending their work from pirates, downloaders, and other denizens of the internet. The result is artists wasting time in court, fighting lawsuits that sap them of time to actually focus on creating new works. Artists should be incentivized to look forward, not spend their time clinging to what they have already made. Obviously, they have a right to profit from their work to an extent, which is why a certain, reduced length of copyright is still important. But clearly the current length is far too great as artists retain their copyright until their death and many years after. Moreover once the artist has died it is difficult to see how copyright can be considered to be enhancing or even rewarding creativity; it simply becomes a negative weight on others creativity.

Counterpoint 

The artistic drive to create is rarely stifled by having been successful. Individuals deserve to profit from their success and to retain control of what they create in their lifetime, as much as the founder of a company deserves to own what he or she creates until actively deciding to part with it. However, even patents, novel creations in themselves, have far less protection than copyright. While most patents offer protection for a total of twenty years, copyright extends far beyond the life of its creator, a gross overstretch of the right of use.[1]

[1] Posner, Richard A., “Patent Trolls Be Gone”, Slate, 15 October 2012, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2012/10/patent_protection_how_to_fix_it.html

Title 
Lengthy copyright protection is extremely inefficient for the dissemination of works
Point 

Only a tiny fraction of copyrighted works ever become massive successes, breeding the riches of a JK Rowling or the like. Far more often, artists only make modest profits from their artistic works. In fact, almost all income from copyright comes immediately after publication of a work.[1] Ultimately, copyright serves to protect a work from being used, while at the same time that work does little to benefit the original artist. Freeing up availability of artistic works much faster would serve to benefit consumers in the extreme, who could now enjoy the works for free and engage in the dissemination and reexamination of the works. If artists care about having their work seen and appreciated, they should realize that they are best served by reduced copyright. Ultimately, long copyrights tend only to benefit corporations that buy up large quantities of work, and exploit it after artists’ deaths. Notably when the United States has a system that required a renewal of copyright after 28 years only 15% of copyrights were actually renewed.[2] It would be far better for everyone that copyright be shortened and to increase appreciation of works.

[1] Gapper, J. “Shorten Copyright and Make it Stick”. Financial Times. 1 July 2010 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c446aa38-84a7-11df-9cbb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2JyVnvY00    

[2] Center for the Study of the Public Domain, “What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2012?”, Duke University, 2012, http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2012/pre-1976

Counterpoint 

Inefficient or not, artists should have the right to retain control of their creations. Even if they are not making any money out of it, they still have the right, and often the desire, to maintain control of the way their art is used. If artists do not desire such control, they can opt to release their works into the public domain, while allowing those who do not wish to do so to protect their work.

Title 
Long copyrights serve to severely limit access by the public to creative works
Point 

Because copyrights are so long, they often result in severely limiting access to some works by anyone. Many “orphan works”, whose copyright holders are unknown, cannot be made available online or in other free format due to copyright protection. This is a major problem, considering that 40% of all books fall into this category.[1] A mix of confusion over copyright ownership and unwillingness of owners to release their works, often because it would not be commercially viable to do so, means that only 2% of all works currently protected by copyright are commercially available.[2] The public is robbed of a vast quantity of artistic work, often simply because no one can or is willing to publish it even in a commercial context. Reducing copyright length would go a long way to freeing this work for public consumption.

[1] Keegan, V. “Shorter Copyright Would Free Creativity”. The Guardian. 7 October 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/oct/07/shorter-copyright-term

[2] ibid

Counterpoint 

The problems associated with “orphan works” can be sorted out separate from limiting copyright length. It simply demands a closer attention from executors and legal professionals to sort these issues out. In terms of availability, it must be up to the artist to release the work as he or she sees fit. Encouraging artists and their successors to release their works into the public domain could go a long way to solving this problem without recourse to adulterating existing protections.

Title 
Long copyright stifles creative responses to and re-workings of the original work
Point 

Artistic creations, be they books, films, paintings, etc. serve as a spark for others to explore their own creativity. Much of the great works of art of the 20th century, like Disney films reworking ancient fairy tales, were reexaminations of existing works.[1] That is the nature of artistic endeavor, and cutting it off by putting a fence around works of art serves to cut off many avenues of response and expression. When copyright is too long, the work passes beyond the present into a new status quo other than that in which it was made. This means contemporary responses and riffs on works are very difficult, or even impossible. In the United States tough copyright law has prevented the creation of a DJ/remix industry because the costs of such remixing is prohibitive.[2] While a certain length of copyright is important, it is also critical for the expression of art to develop that it occur within a not overlong time. Furthermore, it is valuable for artists to experience the responses to their own work, and to thus be able to become a part of the discourse that develops, rather than simply be dead, and thus voiceless.

[1] Keegan, V. “Shorter Copyright Would Free Creativity”. The Guardian. 7 October 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/oct/07/shorter-copyright-term

[2] Jordan, Jim, and Teller, Paul, “RSC Policy Brief: Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it” The Republican Study Committee, 16 November 2012, http://infojustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/three-myths.pdf

Counterpoint 

While there is value in other artists exploring their own creativity by means of others’ work, it does not give them an overriding right. Rather, artists should have a meaningful control over how their art is disseminated and viewed in the world, as it is ultimately their creation. Furthermore, the protections copyright affords means that the responses that do arise must be more creative and novel in and of themselves, and not simply hackneyed riffing on existing work. This helps to benefit the arts by ensuring that there is regular innovation and change. 

Title 
Artists deserve to profit from their work and copyright provides just recompense
Point 

Artists generating ideas and using their effort to produce an intangible good, be it a new song, painting, film, etc. have a property right over those ideas and the products that arise from them. It is the effort to produce a real good, albeit an intangible one, that marks the difference between an idea in someone’s head that he or she does not act upon, and an artistic creation brought forth into the world. Developing new inventions, songs, and brands are all very intensive endeavours, taking time, energy, and often a considerable amount of financial investment, if only from earnings forgone in the time necessary to produce the work. Artists deserve as a matter of principle to benefit from the products of the effort of creation.[1] For this reason, robbing individuals of lifelong and transferable copyright is tantamount to stealing an actual physical product. Each is a real thing, even if one can be touched while the other is intangible in a physical sense. Copyright is the only real scheme that can provide the necessary protection for artists to allow them to enjoy the fruits of their very real labours.

[1] Greenberg, M. “Reason or Madness: A Defense of Copyright’s Growing Pains”. John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law. 2007, http://www.jmripl.com/Publications/Vol7/Issue1/Greenberg.pdf

Counterpoint 

Copyright would still exist, and the artist is able to profit from it, even if the length of copyright is reduced. People deserve recompense, but the stifling force of current laws make for negative outcomes. It would be better to strike a more appropriate balance, allowing artists to profit while they can, which in practice is only during the first few years after their work’s release, and at the same time allowing the art to reach the public sphere and to interact with it in fuller fashion.

Title 
Control of an artistic work and its interaction in the public sphere is the just province of the creator and his or her designated successors
Point 

The creator of a piece of copyrighted material has brought forth a novel concept and product of the human mind. That artist thus should have a power over that work’s use. Art is the expression of its creator’s sense of understanding of the world, and thus that expression will always have special meaning to him or her. How that work is then used thus remains an active issue for the artist, who should, as a matter of justice be able to retain a control over its dissemination. That control can extend, as with the bequeathing of tangible assets, to designated successors, be the trusts, family, or firms. In carrying out the wishes of the artist, these successors can safeguard that legacy in their honor. Many artists care about their legacies and the future of their artistic works, and should thus have this protection furnished by the state through the protection of lengthy copyrights.

Counterpoint 

Once a piece of art enters the public sphere, it takes on a character of its own as it is consumed, absorbed, and assimilated by other artists. It is important that art as a whole be able to thrive in society, but this is only possible when artists are able to make use of, and actively reinterpret and utilize existing works. This can only be furthered by a significant reduction in length of copyright protections. It is also disingenuous to suggest that the artist’s work is not itself the product of exposure to other artists’ work. All art is a response, even if only laterally, to the previous traditions. While those who gain a copyright get it because of a ‘novel concept’ it is open to question just how novel this has to be. A painter who paints a new painting in a style never seen before may well still be using oil and canvas just as thousands of artists have in the past.

Title 
Artists often rely on copyright protection to support dependents and family after, including after they are dead
Point 

Artists may rely on their creative output to support themselves. This is certainly no crime, and existing copyright laws recognize this fact. Artists rarely have pensions of the sort that people in other professions have as they are rarely employed by anyone for more than a short period.[1] As a result artists who depend on their creations for their wherewithal look to their art and copyright as a guaranteed pension, a financial protection they can rely on even if they are too old to continue artistic or other productive work for their upkeep. They also recognize the need of artists to be able to support their dependents, many of whom too rely on the artist’s output. In the same way financial assets like stocks can be bequeathed to people for them to profit, so too must copyright be. Copyright is a very real asset and financial protection that should be sustained for the sake of artists’ financial wellbeing and that of their loved ones.

[1] The Economist, “Art for money’s sake”, 27 May 2004, http://www.economist.com/node/2714114

Counterpoint 

The vast majority of artistic output results in having little lifelong, let alone postmortem economic value. Most artists glean all they are going to get out of their art within a couple years of its production, and the idea that it will sustain their families is silly. In the small number of cases of phenomenally successful artists, they usually make enough to sustain themselves and family, but even still, the benefits accrued to outliers should not be sufficient reason to significantly slow the pace of artistic progress and cross-pollination of ideas. Besides, in any other situation in which wealth is bequeathed, that money must have been earned already. Copyright is a bizarre construct that allows for the passing on of the right to accrue future wealth.

Title 
The promise of copyright protection galvanizes people to develop creative endeavors
Point 

The incentive to profit drives a great deal of people’s intellectual endeavours. Without the guarantee of ownership over one’s artistic work, the incentive to invest in its creation is significantly diminished. Within a robust copyright system, individuals feel free to invest time in their pursuits because they have full knowledge that the fruits of their efforts will be theirs to reap.[1] With these protections the marginal cases, like people afraid to put time into actually writing a novel rather than doing more hours at their job, will take the opportunity. Even if the number of true successes is very small in the whole of artistic output, the chance of riches and fame can be enough for people to make the gamble. If their work were to quickly leave their control, they would be less inclined to do so. Furthermore, the inability of others to simply duplicate existing works as their own means they too will be galvanized to break ground on new ideas, rather than simply re-tread over current ideas.

[1] Greenberg, M. “Reason or Madness: A Defense of Copyright’s Growing Pains”. John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law. 2007, http://www.jmripl.com/Publications/Vol7/Issue1/Greenberg.pdf

Counterpoint 

Artists generally desire to create, and will do so whether there is financial incentive or not. Besides, many artists live and die in relative poverty,[1] yet their experience seems to not have put off people from pursuing art as a profession and passion. The loss of a few marginal cases must be weighed against the massive losses to art in general, such as the huge curtailment of exploration of and response to existing works, which are often artistically meritorious in their own right, and also the rendering unavailable of much of the artistic output of the world.

[1] The Economist, “Art for money’s sake”, 27 May 2004, http://www.economist.com/node/2714114

Bibliography 

Center for the Study of the Public Domain, “What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2012?”, Duke University, 2012, http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2012/pre-1976

Gapper, J. “Shorten Copyright and Make it Stick”. Financial Times. 1 July 2010 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c446aa38-84a7-11df-9cbb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2JyVnvY00

Greenberg, M. “Reason or Madness: A Defense of Copyright’s Growing Pains”. John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law. 2007, http://www.jmripl.com/Publications/Vol7/Issue1/Greenberg.pdf

Intellectual Property Office, “About copyright” http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/copy/c-about.htm

Jordan, Jim, and Teller, Paul, “RSC Policy Brief: Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it” The Republican Study Committee, 16 November 2012, http://infojustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/three-myths.pdf

Keegan, V. “Shorter Copyright Would Free Creativity”. The Guardian. 7 October 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/oct/07/shorter-copyright-term

Posner, Richard A., “Patent Trolls Be Gone”, Slate, 15 October 2012, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2012/10/patent_protection_how_to_fix_it.html

The Economist, “Art for money’s sake”, 27 May 2004, http://www.economist.com/node/2714114

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