I just became signature 5100 (that's a nice, round number) for a petition designed to reclaim the public domain. Is seems that this petition was only launched today, so I think that 5100 signatories is pretty impressive for one day. Thanks to fluke for pointing out the petition in his LiveJournal.
I'm a big fan of copyrights, but I've become increasingly irritated with the recent legislation going through Congress. I like the fact that copyrights help protect the intellectual property of people and I think that if someone has a good idea, they should be able to profit from it for their lifetime. And, to some extent, I think copyright protection can extend to the heirs of the copyright holder, although I might be able to be argued out of that one. What I don't like is the current trend of indefinite copyrights. Basically, it looks like Congress is bending over backwards in order to keep Mickey Mouse protected by a corporation founded by a man who died over 36 years ago (one day shy of six years before I was born, in fact). It's time that Steamboat Willie enter the public domain.
OK. Maybe not. Perhaps the Disney corporation can and should have an indefinite claim to copyright protection for Mickey Mouse. Personally, I don't think so, but if you're of the mindset that a corporation can have indefinite copyright protection and are using that belief to justify supporting the current trend in copyright legislation, I'll take the opportunity to point out that the petition addresses this point:
One solution in particular that we ask Congress to consider is the Public Domain Enhancement Act. See http://eldred.cc This statute would require American copyright owners to pay a very low fee (for example, $1) fifty years after a copyrighted work was published. If the owner pays the fee, the copyright will continue for whatever duration Congress sets. But if the copyright is not worth even $1 to the owner, then we believe the work should pass into the public domain.
That seems like a very reasonable solution to me, and it's a solution that I've not seen mentioned before. A solution like this will allow a lot of work to pass into the public domain in a reasonable time, while still allowing Congress to dictate the length of copyright protection available to copyright holders who wish to take an active part in protecting their copyright. I really like the idea of shifting some of the burden of securing copyright protection to the copyright holder.
Why would we want to do something like that? According to the petition:
In 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). That Act extended the term of all existing copyrights by 20 years. But as Justice Breyer calculated, only 2% of the work copyrighted during the initial 20 years affected by this statute has any continuing commercial value at all. The balance has disappeared from the commercial marketplace, and, we fear, could disappear from our culture generally.
So Congress is focusing a lot of energy working on legislation that only benefits 2% of the population of copyright holders. It's bad enough that Congress spends a lot of effort on legislation that only effects a few people, but the effect of this legislation actually causes harm to the population that it is not trying to protect. Because it is difficult to impossible to determine who the copyright holder is for many older works, people are choosing to not use prior work in their own work in order to avoid copyright issues. This is a great shame, because much of this work is in dire need of restoration and caretaking, but nobody is stepping up to the plate for fear of breaching copyright law. Think in terms of archive footage for documentaries, e.g. As an amateur videographer / documentarian, this is an issue that I feel strongly about.
So I urge you, my readers, to support the efforts that are embodied in this petition. Don't just stop at signing the petition -- call and write your elected representatives in Congress and let them know that you do not support the current trend in copyright legislation and urge them to consider alternatives like those discussed in this petition.
This site serves as the focal point for information about the campaign to restore balance to copyright laws by expanding the public domain. Founded as part of Eldred v. Ashcroft, the legal action to overturn the Copyright Term Extension Act (Phase I), it now houses all the documents from that case, as well as new and up-to-date information about advocacy efforts to reclaim the public domain through legislation.
This journal entry placed in the public domain.