In an earlier post, I commented on a post by Judge Posner, where he suggests a copyright registry. This post will comment on one of the aspects in Posners proposal.
Posner, together with William M. Landes, has written a paper on the subject. In the paper, they suggest that copyright should be obtained by registration, and the owner should renew it every 20 years or so to keep it. Registration and renewal of the copyright should cost a relatively high fee. It is not clear exactly how high the fee should be, but maybe around $100. We discussed this in class, and Professor Solum pointed out, that it would be very expensive for a law professor like him, who writes a large number of law articles, to get all of them registered in the copyright registry. It seems highly unreasonable that law professors, and others, who writes a lot of articles, should have to pay this large fee every time they write a new article. Charging this fee would result in a lot of people not getting copyright to their works, because it simply would be to expensive, when they don’t get paid very much (if anything) for their writing. And this would a affect not only writers, but also painters, and other artists, that don’t have the money to register their copyright. It hardly seems fair, that whether or not you get copyright to your own work, should depend on how much money you have. There may even be constitutional problems with such a high fee, because it doesn’t promote the progress of science (or art for that matter). In my opinion, however, this problem could relatively easily be solved. Don’t charge a registration fee, but charge a renewal fee. This would make sure, that people who doesn’t get payed a lot of money for their works, still get copyright for at least 20 years (maybe the first copyright period should be even less - 5 years perhaps?). After the first (free) period is up, if the work is any thing worth - which most law articles probably aren’t after 20 years - the owner could pay the renewal fee and keep the copyright for another 20 years. Since most works have no value after 20 years (or even 5 years), a lot of works would fall into the public domain after the first period. This is in the interest of arts and science, because it gets a lot cheaper and easier for people who want to create new works to track down the owners of the copyrighted materials. If a work is not in the registry, the work can be used without permission.