Monday, October 28, 2013

Copyright term extension debate provokes controversy, even for new writers and musicians

Congress will soon have to consider whether to extend the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which President Clinton had signed in 1998.  The Act is explained in Wikipedia here. The Act amplifies the Copyright Act of 1976 by extending copyright protection to authors from “Life plus 50 years” to “Life plus 70”, supposedly to bring the United States into consonance with practice in Europe.  The law has also been called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”.  Timothy B. Lee has a detailed analysis of the controversy in the Washington Post this morning (Monday, October 28, 2013) on his blog called “The Switch”, here.
I’ll leave the details to his analysis, but it’s clear that the incentive of the law is to “protect” big-time authors, their families, and especially the bottom lines of media companies, whose stock price probably benefits from the guarantee of revenue from cultural icons.  (Isn’t it interesting how Wall Street is in bed with the Democrats!)  It protects the idea of media and publishing as a numbers-driven game, which is quite in contradiction to the values of new authors trying to get established.  But copyright extension also tends to inhibit competition. If may be interesting to compare this issue to the piracy debate in 2011, where we saw that major media companies really do fear low-cost competition from newbies. 
Lee does point out that the extension act does inhibit the republication of many older classics, some of which teachers probably would present to their high school English and social studies classes.  However many important classics that sell widely (like Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”) appear to still be under copyright.
The Open Rights Group, from Europe, argues below that copyright extension does help big companies with their share prices but it really doesn’t help artists, even established musicians and singers, that much.
I noted, in yesterday’s post here, and in a review of a couple of books on self-publishing in my Book Reviews blog (Oct. 16) that businesses models in self-publishing vary a lot.  But in recent years there seems to be more concern among the companies that support self-publishing that authors should be serious about sales numbers, and that accept that this is a “competitive” world where results matters as much as vanity or message or even intellectual legacy.
I do have some fiction projects (a novel and screenplay scripts) but I don’t have a problem with “originality”. The content really is “new”.   I’m not using any established characters or franchises, so neither copyright nor trademark should matter on these projects.  If I get the novel out, I won’t be hearing from Disney’s or WB’s lawyers.  You can bank in that. 

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