During the course of this semester, the biggest thing I have taken issue with is the exceptionally long period of copyright protection that is given to copyright owners. Congress originally created copyright protection as part of their Constitutionally authorized power to "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Under current copyright law, the "limited time" given to copyright owners is 70 years after the life of the author. Here comes the rant..
Let's admit it. Seventy years PLUS the life of the author is a very long time. Under this scheme, I could copyright something when I'm 20 and just sit back for the rest of my days doing absolutely nothing. Not only that, assuming my copyrighted idea was very successful, my children could sit back for their lives and do nothing except reap the benefits of my copyright. So where exactly is the copyright promoting the progress of science and useful arts???
I think there is something to be taken from patent law which is derived from the same exact clause in the Constitution. Patent law gives you only 20 years for most patents. You get 20 years to market, use, and otherwise exploit to the fullest degree your limited monopoly over your patented idea. After that, if you want the money to keep coming in, better invent something new. The duration ensures the patent owner will reap the benefits of his invention, but does not allow him to just sit back for the rest of his days.
My proposal: Shorten the copyright terms. Make it similar to patent protection, 20 years. In my opinion 20 years is plenty of time to milk all you can out of a copyright. In the case of movies, it more than covers the norm of movie release and subsequent dvd releaes. In fact, in the final year, you can release the super-duper-special-20th-anniversary-let-me-get-a-few-more-dollars-out-of-my-copyright release. In the case of music, 20 years would more than adequately cover the lifespan of popular music. Few artists even have the staying power to last 20 years. Case in point, how many bands can you name from the 80s that still tour and put out new music today? I can only name a couple. After the 20 year term, if the copyright owner wants more income, he's just going to have to put out new material. Simple as that.
What about derivative works? Easy. You have 20 years to make them. Again, in my opinion, plenty of time. Let's take movies for example, assuming that 95% of all a movie's profits (theater release, dvd release, etc.) comes in the first 10 years, you still have 10 years to develop a sequel. If you can't develop a good sequel in that amount of time, perhaps it simply isn't worth having a sequel. Would you want to see "Footloose 2"? Or better still, do I need to point to the abysmal failure of "Dirty Dancing 2 - Havanna Nights" released some 15 years after the original?
So all this brings me back to the title of this final post. As the saying goes, "pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered" Yet under the current system it seems to be "pigs get fat, but hogs get even fatter" having a copyright term that lasts essentially two generations simply does not comport with the purpose of copyright protection. Having this long of term does not and cannot usefully "promote the useful science and arts." By shortening the copyright terms, copyright owners still have a monopoly on their copyright. But hopefully the proceeds of their limited monopoly will go towards production of new content for the greater benefit of the public. Overall, something needs to be changed and I think the terms of copyright protection are a good place to start looking.