Copyright is GOOD

Someone explain the Eldred v. Ashcroft case to me. Why is it that it seems everyone but me is on the Eldred (Lessig) side?

Why is it that copyrights should expire ever? I don’t see the logic? Why should anybody in the world be able to make Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck ripoffs? How does the public gain in this case? I don’t see it. Why is it that after Disney has spent untold millions a year on keeping Mickey Mouse fresh and popular that they should have to give it all up just because it’s some number of years after they first introduced him?

Lessig has come up with this term, “the Public Commons”. He then goes on to define the “the Public Commons” as only stuff which is uncopyritten, public domain, freely usable in any way possible. But is that really the correct definition? Could it be that the real definition of “the Public Commons” should be all ideas we are able to be exposed to? Under this definition we have the largest “Public Commons” ever in the history of humankind.

I can go into any Tower Records and be exposed to several tens of thousands musicians. I can walk into a Borders or Barnes and Noble and have access to tens of thousands of books. I’ve got access to video stores with thousands of movies. Hundreds if not thousands of comics. I’d argue that therefore our “public commons” is ENORMOUS!

When I want to design a new game or write a story of course I draw on all those ideas. They didn’t need to be public domain for me to do that. Star Wars is inspired by E.E.Doc Smith’s the Lensman series but that doesn’t mean it’s a rip off or needed to be one. The Lensman series didn’t need to be public domain in order for that inspriation to happen.

If more stories/music/movies etc were public domain I’d probably never know about them. Why? Because there would be no reason to push them. There would be no reason to have giant bookstores all over the place if there was no way to make money from books. Very very few people would take the time to write them if there wasn’t this hope that they were going to have a bestseller.

I’m sorry but I don’t see how limiting copyright at all increases our true “public commons” in any way. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Limiting copyright will destroy the public commons. As mentioned above, first, many things that now have a reason to get pushed would no longer get pushed. On top of that instead of getting new ideas inspired by the old we’d just get complete ripoffs. Why do I need to use it for inspiration when I can just publish an exact copy? Why do I have to come up with a new superhero when I can just insert Superman here?

It would seem to me that creators, in particular story authors, would find copyright limits appalling. You make a story about a big blue lovable furry monster named Sulley that takes care of a little 4 year old girl named Boo. When the copyright expires Joe Unscrupulous is now making The Fudup Adventures of Boo and Sulley where Boo seduces Sulley into a cocain habit. Most authors I know would be seriously upset to have their characters, their creations, used without permission in ways they didn’t want them to be used regardless of whether it’s 1 month after publication or one millenia after publication.

Lessig wants to put forward that something is being taken away by not allowing these things to become public domain. But he never really nails it down what we are losing. He just states as a fact that we are losing something and without really thinking it through most people seemed to buy it. We certainly are not losing our ability to be inspired and therefore make new creations by having long copyrights. The Public Commons is not getting smaller. In fact because of copyright, BILLIONS of dollars are spent on content creation every year. The system works as it was intended to by our forefathers. That content IS part of the Public Commons by virtue of it being available to the public. We have the best Public Commons ever specifically because of copyright.

  • hummbaby
    Free Mickey

    …is the title of an article I read not too long ago in the San Francisco Chronicle

    09-26-02 is the date if the link doesn’t work and you have to search for it (althought you probably already noticed the date in the link).

    You raise a lot of good points Gregg. I’d like to hear what you think about this article. I still think it’s a tough issue. When the original copyright laws were written, I don’t think the widepsread creation and consumption of books, movies, video games, and Mickey Mouse t-shirts, was envisioned two hundred years ago. I think the laws should protect creators, but not stifle creativity and innovation. Whatever law would do that is fine with me whether it’s current copyright law or something new.

    Many public domain works are still “pushed” in the marketplace, however. If it’s worth watching, reading, etc., it won’t get “lost” just because it’s now suddenly public domain.

    Here’s an interesting quote from that article:

    “Disney Corporation’s fortune was itself built largely from commercially successful animated reproductions of free public domain works from the 19th century, including Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Jungle Book. So what we have is a company that got rich off the works of others that now doesn’t want to let anyone else play by those same rules.”




  • anon_usboy
    US copyright is limited by constitution

    Sposedly the US constitution gives Congress the power to grant copyright protection for a finite time.  However, just as some of the major copyrights get ready to expire, they extend the term for another “X” years (sposedly they’ve done this 5 or so times).  The case hinges on what “finite” means…right now, US copyright protection is for 70-95 years (finite), but if Congress keeps exending it like it has, it will be in effect infinite.

    If you don’t like the US Constitution’s limited copyright terms, change the constitution or move out of the US.  (Oh, wait, you already have!)  8)


  • greggman
    Copyright comments

    to the “limited” point

    Since limited is not defined then it is up to congress to define it.  I personally have no problem if they define it to “limited to 1 billlion years” or “limited to the end of the universe”.

    I went and read that article.  Here are some points:

    … Further extending copyrights, on the other hand, enriches copyright owners but offers no discernable benefits to the rest of us.

    I think I clearly went over the benefits of copyright and damages of not allowing it to be longer in my post above.

    “The Secret Garden” entered the public domain in 1986, for example, it has, among other products, spawned a movie, a musical, a cabaret adaptation, a made-for-TV movie, a cookbook, a CD-ROM, a second musical adaptation, a stage play, a radio program, a reader’s guide and a video, according to a list compiled by Arizona State University law professor Dennis Karjala. And that’s just one public domain property

    So what?  That’s not an argument for public domain because  If it was not public domain we don’t know we wouldn’t have gotten something even better, newer and more creative.  We’d have two stories instead of just one retold again.

    They add that it’s also pretty unlikely that struggling artists would decide not to create something today because their heirs 100 or more years in the future won’t be able to keep selling it.

    First of all, why does it matter about that’s it’s their heirs and not them.  By the same arguement, anything you hand down to your children they should have to give to the public XX years after you made it?  That house you built, that ring you made, the quilt you made?  Why is a story or a movie different?

    Second of all, I think possibly a distinction could/should be made between stuff that is actively being used and stuff that is not.  For example I’m sure there is some book about programming the Apple 2 which nobody is selling, no one has sold for 10 years, *maybe* that should fall into the public domain.  But, Mickey Mouse is at the other extreme.  Millions are still spent on Mickey Mouse.  Just this year Disney and Square released Kingdom Hearts for PS2 with Mickey in it.  As well as the Racing and Snowboarding games for Gamecube.  It seems unfair to me that for some random reason anybody should be able to use Mickey.

    What makes this sorry tale even more ironic is that the Disney Corporation’s fortune was itself built largely from commercially successful animated reproductions of free public domain works from the 19th century, including Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Jungle Book. So what we have is a company that got rich off the works of others that now doesn’t want to let anyone else play by those same rules.

    That is also not proof of anything.  (1) Even if those works were copyrighted Disney could have licensed them.  Kind of like Spielberg licensed Jurassic Park or how Harry Potter was licensed. (2) Just because there is copyright does not mean some people will not place stuff in the public domain.  That’s happening more and more now with the net as people have a way to spread their stuff.  (3) Those works are still in the public domain so anybody else that want’s to make stuff based on them is free to do so.  In other words people can still play by the same rules.

    Humanity would have had to wait an additional century or longer for the advent of commercial television because it was based, in part, on ideas originally developed for radio. Likewise, airplanes might still be on the drawing board, held back in development because some inventor’s grandchild tied up access to an essential component they had no role in creating.

    Here the author is confusing copyright with patents.  Expression of ideas with ideas themselves.  Copyrights cover expressions of ideas.  I can’t copyright the idea of a talking mouse.  I can only copyright the specific expression of that idea.  As for what’s too specific and what’s not that’s for the courts to decide.  Then general idea though is that if you look at expression #2 and it mostly reminds you of expression #1 you are infringing on a copyright.  That’s why for example Mighty Mouse is not infringing on Mickey Mouse.  Very few people if any look at Mighty Mouse and think Mickey.

    Patents cover ideas only without their expression.  They are much harder to get but it’s a different issue so I don’t want to discuss it here.

    The point is copyright does not prepress expression, it does not stop progress, instead of offers creators a way to protect their works.  Protect them from misuse as well as from theft.

  • hummbaby
    you should be a lawyer

    Well said, Greggman. You should argue that case in the court! A lot of good points.

    Yeah when I was reading that article, I thought of the same thing about licensing stuff. Even though Disney did some of their films based on works in the public domain , many have been licensed. I don’t think they just decided, “let’s only make films about stuff we don’t have to pay for.” They just thought that something would work good in a movie and they used it, and if it was copyrighted they had to pay for it.

    Actually, the fact that you can’t just copy another work as your own in a way forces innovation upon those unwilling to pay license fees to borrow someone else’s creation.

    I still don’t see the benefits of not having copyrights. I think that guy is suing just so he has free content to offer on his site.

  • anon_jim

    copyright must be finite because human endeavor is finite.

    eventually, we will exhaust the entire melody, painting, and story space.  if copyright protects every work ever made, then at that point it would become a copyright violation to make any new art in those media.

    the number of art forms we can percieve are also finite.  eventually, we will exhaust the entire space of percievable art, at which point creation of any kind would become a copyright violation.

    these limits will, of course, be hurried along by the fact that a work doesn’t have to be identical in order to be a copyright violation, it only has to be similar.  and also the fact that what humans find pleasing is a miniscule subset of the range of possible expression.

    maybe it doesn’t matter.  maybe our race will die when our sun does, never having come close to the limit.  but i don’t like to think that way; i like to think that by the time our planet has become uninhabitable, we’ll have moved on, and we’ll have taken our art with us.

    on the other hand, maybe the limits are closer than we think.


  • anon_Gharlane
    Gharlane is coming for you!

     E.E.Doc Smith’s the Lensman series rocks… and I almost never see it mentioned. It is just so ’50’s..  With its cartons of smokes and wonderfull anachronistic male female relationships you can see what “v” will look like in 30 years..   I sadly think most have not read them though.. I had a charecter called Kim Kinnison in Ultima Online for like 3 years and only had one guy come up and go “LENSMAN!!!!!”  (sorry I know this was off topic sort of.. (please continue on your business… move along move along)

  • rfx

    “The Congress shall have Power … 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”

    (United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8)

    Where in there do you see anythign about creating and sustaining a market?

    I believe the operative terms here are “promote” and “limited”, agreed?

  • what’s your point?  Copyright as it is IS “promoting”.  I see no evidence to the contrary, only speculation.

  • abb3w
    Those who do not study their history…

    This isn’t the first time this war has been fought. When the United States Constitution was drafted, the abuses of the Royally chartered Stationers in the 1500’s and 1600’s were still fresh, which is why the Constitution expressly stated that the protections were to be for LIMITED times. Unlimited copyright was a bad thing then, and a worse thing now.

  • Those who do not understand the history they studied…

    Just because it says “LIMITED TIMES” does not in anyway imply that Unlimited copyright is bad.  Prove that Unlimited copyright is bad.  I suspect you can’t.

    The typical example is some of Disney’s movies being based off of public domain stories.  Those are the exception.  Checking for example the top 250 movies I count approximately 5 of them are based off of public domain stories.  All the rest are either original or based of licensed stories.  Clearly copyright is not stopping creativety nor is there any evidence that unlimited copyright is bad.