1936. Edward VIII begins his reign, but soon abdicates. The BBC starts its television service. And a little book by the name of Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, is published. If I knew then what I know now, about Margaret Mitchell's $greedy$ estate, I would have rolled out my cannon and declared a private war against her. If I were alive back in 1936, that is. And if I knew where the hell to find a cannon. Maybe it's time I started looking into purchasing a DeLorean and finishing my Time Flux Capacitor.
Margaret Mitchell's estate started making friends a couple years ago when they tried to prevent the publication of The Wind Done Gone, a parody on Gone With the Wind. The Wind Done Gone told Gone With the Wind's story from a slave's point of view - hence the play on the title. Too bad a little thing called the Constitution got in the way of Mitchell's estate...the injunction blocking publication was ruled a prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment. Go free speech.
The Stephens Mitchell Trusts wants Australian Gutenberg volunteers either to remove Gone With the Wind from their servers or else take steps to prevent downloads in countries where copyright law bans unauthorized distribution of the 1936 classic.
We've talked about the Gutenberg in class before. I found this pretty cool interview with Michael S. Hart, founder of the Gutenberg project. The project publishes texts on the Internet for which the copyright has expired - it's basically a public library that can be accessed around the world with no waiting and no lines. One of my favorite parts from Hart's discussion about the DMCA and other copyright (extension) laws:
I would prefer a copyright of 10 years or so. Only the biggest of the best sellers might make 10 percent more after 10 years, and they don't need it. Do we really want laws that support only the biggest and richest?
Congress should not be allowed to write laws that create windfall profits for 1 percent of the population and take away a million books from all the rest.
The Gutenberg Project just wants to provide books, for which the copyright has expired, to the masses. And here comes the Mitchell $estate$, trying to shut down a library. This is why I need a Cannon and a fully functional Flux Capacitor. Picking on a library is like picking on somebody's grandmother. The only solution is to go up to the bully and say: "Fist, meet face."
The interview goes on to discuss possible problems that the Australian Gutenberg might cause - keep in mind, this interview was back in 2002, before Mitchell's camp sounded the war trumpets. One problem is that while Australia's copyrights last for the author's life + 50 years, not everybody else's does.
Here's the reason why this distinction is important - Margaret Mitchell died in 1949. Now, see if you can follow my complicated mathematical algorithm: 1949 + 50 = 1999. That is when the copyright expired on Gone With the Wind in Australia, and so the Australian Gutenberg could put it up for download. Mitchell's estate is complaining because, while the work is public domain in Australia, that doesn't mean it is in the public domain everywhere. For example, in the US, it's set to go public in 2031. So the Mitchell estate would like to extract a few more pennies from the book until then, and that's why Big Brother is making a trip Down Under.
So, essentially, the Mitchell estate would like to punish Australia for their shorter copyright laws by forcing them to take Gone With the Wind offline. Maybe the estate would settle for the Australian Gutenberg limiting access to the book for native koalas and kangaroos, but I think it more likely that the $estate$ will go for the jugular. And that's a shame.
It's also a shame that they are even referencing the US Gutenberg. Mitchell's lawyers will probably claim that Project Gutenberg Australia is some kind of "backdoor" operation for the US Gutenberg to sneak copyrighted stuff onto the internet via Australia's copyright laws. But Michael makes it clear in his interview, 2 years ago, that the Australian Gutenberg is a totally separate organization - they just use the Gutenberg name, with Hart's permission. Like he's using a backdoor to sneak stuff online, anyway.
Incidentally, I've noticed a couple sites don't link to Project Gutenberg of Australia. That's weird. Like somebody would get in trouble for posting a link to their site. I mean, really. Link, link, link...
Looking to the bigger picture of international sovereignty, nobody should be forced to follow in our steps. Especially when our legislative body is wearing clown shoes. The good ol' US of A has been steadily increasing the duration of copyrights. At the rate we're going, we're on par for Hatch to propose a bill to extend copyrights for life + 700e^9 years. Check out this breakdown:
|1790:||14 year copyright, 14 year renewal|
|1831:||28 year copyright, 14 year renewal|
|1909:||28 year copyright, 28 year renewal|
|1976:||Life of author + 50 years|
|1992:||Automatic copyright renewals|
|1998:||Life of author + 70 years|
|2010:||Life of author + 500 years|
Why is this happening? Dan Gillmore put it best: "...in this century of big and powerful media companies, Congress has turned the idea of "limited'' into something perversely long, with repeated extensions..." The sad part is how these big companies have brought things to a point where a public library is being sued/injunctified for putting up a public text, which is in its public domain, for public consumption. Wtf?!
As David from the teleread.org blog says, "If the estate successfully sued, Gutenberg-style organizations throughout the world might have to adhere to the strictest copyright laws in the cosmos." If the Mitchell estate could hold Australia responsible for US copyright law, what would happen when Hatchville passes a copyright law for life of author plus a gabillion years? Would everyone have to follow Hatchville?
I know what needs to be done to make things right. I just need a Flux Capacitor...