Friday, March 14, 2014

To Save Copyright, We Must Kill It (and raise it anew)

Kurt Sutter, creator of the TV series Sons of Anarchy, has posted an article at Slate on the need for a dialogue around copyright, and it's worth reading.
3.No one benefits from piracy except the criminals and the portal that opens its doors to them. Stealing content may feel like a win, but supporting piracy will ultimately diminish the quality of the content you’ve come to love and depend on. Google and the other copyright killers will tell you the opposite to assuage your burden of guilt and theirs, but again, it’s in their best interests to do everything and anything that serves their current bottom line.
Sutter calls for a dialog between the various parties with a stake in copyright law, from the Googles of the world to the content creators (and, I might add, derivative content creators like fanfic writers,) to subscribers and viewers. You know where I would start? Personally I think we need to reform the Copyright law to allow for stronger protection in exchange for a shorter copyright period.
Copyright in America, as my first year copyright professor taught me, is not inborn. It is a government-granted limited-time monopoly on an intellectual work, granted as an incentive to create more work. You create work, you exploit it, it goes out of copyright for the greater good (because your government-granted monopoly lapses) and you create more work. Copyright is a balancing act between incentives for two goods: a robust public domain and a robust creative output. We do have piracy and I have written about it before. I think most of the policy arguments in favor of piracy are self-serving and disingenuous.
Current copyright law encourages piracy and needs to be reformed But current copyright law encourages piracy because it protects copyright for too long at the expense of the public domain. Currently copyright protection extends for life plus seventy years. We've decided as a society that we need a government-granted monopoly on our work, but seventy years past our mortal lives is absurd and does not benefit society at all, because it starves the public domain. There is no meaningful argument for that length save greed. I think we can find a better number.
Copyright law needs squatter's rights Currently there are vast seas of creative work locked up in copyright limbo because it can be difficult to locate the rights holders of each. This means that works that should be in the public domain are stuck or "orphaned" and cannot be used, copied, derived from or otherwise exploited. There have been bills to address this but as of now, there is no way of freeing orphaned work. Personally I think we should pass a squatter's rights law, allowing for an "open and notorious" use of orphaned work. For instance, I might publically announce that I'm going to base a new novel on an orphaned novel published in 1979. We need some means for the owner to come running and license the work to me, or cede the work to the public domain. Laws have been proposed to deal with oprhaned works but none so far has passed.
Copyright owners should avoid being jerks about minor derivative works like fanfic. Because you look like a fool when you do that. We should not antagonize the fans, and in fact they bring great conversation to the enjoyment of works by adding to them with fanfic, videos and more. We need to have a better attitude about minor copying. In other words, we need to aggressively grow the definition of fair use.
In exchange for these reforms, internet providers should be willing to help block piracy. And I mean it-- if I learn someone is offering free copies of my book, I am utterly fine with reducing their computer to molten slag, but I'll be happy if we just made life a little more difficult. That should be the deal: reform copyright to be less stringgent and quit coming off like thugs, and in exchange, let's crack down on the kind of sharing that will ultimately mean no more Sons of Anarchy at all. The task of reforming copyright is hard, but it is hard because it is worth it. Many worthwhile things are hard. We can and must reform copyright before we those who create are unable to keep creating.

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