Rethinking Copyrights

The struggle over the future of copyright has escalated to an
all-out war. Major content providers?such as Disney and the
Recording Industry Association of America?scored a dramatic victory
last month when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional
challenge to the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act. Plaintiffs in
the case, Eldred v. Ashcroft, had dubbed the 1998 law the
?Mickey Mouse Protection Act? because it extended copyrights by 20
years to 90 years after an author?s death, keeping the earliest
versions of Disney?s mascot out of the public domain for another
two decades.

With digital rights activists licking their wounds, The
entered the fray on their behalf. The conservative
British magazine fired off a strongly worded editorial calling for
?a radical rethink? of current copyright laws. The original purpose
of copyright, they point out, was ?the grant of a temporary
government-supported monopoly on copying a work? so as to
?encourage the circulation of ideas by giving creators and
publishers a short-term incentive to disseminate their work.? Its
purpose was not, as Disney argued, and the Court ultimately agreed,
to grant the creator a transferable property right. The editorial
even suggests that ?the 14-year term of the original 18th-century
British and American copyright laws, renewable once, might be a
good place to start.?

However, The Economist continues, since shorter
copyrights would throw hundreds of thousands of books, recordings
and films into the public domain, those copyrights that remain in
effect should be enforceable. That means allowing for the
development of the copy-protection technologies that activists have
strenuously opposed. ?Many cyber activists would loathe this idea.
But if copyright is to continue to work at all, it is necessary.
And in exchange for a vast expansion of the public domain, such a
concession would clearly be in the interests of consumers.?
Leif Utne

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