Public Domain Day - January 1
Saturday, January 02 2010 @ 09:09 AM PST
Contributed by: Richard Pitt
January 1 is public domain day. Each year the works of artists and authors and others whose works fall under the copyright act in the countries of the world who died X years ago fall into the public domain. The problem is that X is a number that has been changed from time to time, and currently here in Canada it is life plus 50 years.
My personal take on this is that again, the business world is trying to use their powers of persuasion with government to protect their old business instead of finding and creating new business. The concept of Copyright is a balancing act - balancing the right of a creator (note - not a publisher) to make money from their creations for their lifetime with the rights of society to learn in the long term from the works of the past. This is not just about artistic works, but about all copyright items including things like letters and private works that might describe a past we no little about.
If anything, I'm in favor of changing copyright to allow publishers to pay to extend its term - and pay a lot, as in a percentage of the earnings of the item in question - to the public purse. This would bring it somewhat in line with the patent system where extensions in many jurisdictions may be purchased.
I'm certainly not in favor of extending indefinitely the term after death just to allow the music industry to keep making us pay to hear Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. These things need to pass into the public domain at some point. The current trend is to nail the period to somewhere around the start of the communications revolution when radio, TV, recordings and photography began their rise.
For an outstanding look at a world where copyright extensions have gone to the extreme, I recommend reading my friend Spider Robinson's short story, Melancholy Elephants, (read it online - under the Creative Commons license)
"'Ars longa, vita brevis est,'" she said at last. "There's been comfort of a kind in that for thousands of years. But art is Iong, not infinite. 'The Magic goes away.' One day we will use it up --unless we can learn to recycle it like any other finite resource." Her voice gained strength. "Senator, that bill has to fail, if I have to take you on to do it. Perhaps I can't win-- but I'm going to fight you! A copyright must not be allowed to last more than fifty years--after which it should be flushed from the memory banks of the Copyright Office. We need selective voluntary amnesia if Discoverers of Art are to continue to work without psychic damage. Facts should be remembered--but dreams?" She shivered. ". . . Dreams should be forgotten when we wake. Or one day we will find ourselves unable to sleep. Given eight billion artists with effective working lifetimes in excess of a century, we can no longer allow individuals to own their discoveries in perpetuity. We must do it the way the human race did it for a million years--by forgetting, and rediscovering. Because one day the infinite number of monkeys will have nothing else to write except the complete works of Shakespeare. And they would probably rather not know that when it happens."
The world in general and artists in particular need to know that copyright will eventually end - because otherwise the artist becomes paranoid that the work they've created is in reality something they saw or heard in their past - or in fact is something that pre-existed but is so "right" for a particular mood or concept that the could not help but re-create it - and they'll get sued for it.
Art builds upon the backs of previous artists. Today's painting techniques grow out of the ability to view and comment upon prior paintings from prior times. Same thing with music and even (especially) computer programs (don't get me going about patenting computer programs - suffice it to say I'm against it) - so holding copyright over the heads of those who wish to build upon that past is just plain wrong.
Lobby your politicians, wherever they are - and get them to read Spider's work if nothing else.