Utah Pirate Party - Their Hearts are in the Right Place

by Paul William Tenny

Any cursory glance at this countries record of updating its copyright law makes it painfully clear that virtually every instance has been at the behest of corporate media lobbyists. I'm not riffing on them or going on your typical anti-conglomerate rant, this is about inappropriate legislation by the peoples representatives that hurts us, rather than helps us. If anything, these updates help one thing and one thing only: the bottom line of big media companies.

It's clear to anyone who advocates fair use rights for the public that an initial balance between the rights of the author and the rights of the public have swung wildly in favor of the author over the past few decades. The author driving these changes aren't artists who create unique works, but companies that those works are sold to as work-for-hire. I make it, sell it to a company which pays me for it, and as far as the law is concerned, they created it. It is far then to protect the authors sole right to perform and reproduce that work for a limited period of time to get them financial incentive to create more great stuff, even though no such incentive and protection was required throughout human history while some our greatest treasures were made.
Where the balance lay is obviously subjective and dependent on the value you place on any given thing. It wouldn't be fair to ask one person to judge the value of the creation of another person, and then base the length of exclusive copyrights on that alone. You've got to pick a number that balances the incentives against the loss once a work reaches the public domain.

Many years ago, that number was fourteen years. After having been in existence for just over a decade, anything created would become the property of the public which could copy, modify, and use those works for any purpose they saw fit. The laws regarding this length have changed are semi-regular intervals over the past fifty years, usually when the property of a mega-corp stood to lose control over a valuable thing such as Mickey Mouse. Disney fights extremely hard every time that character and those stories are about to enter the public domain, and has twice prodded congress into extending the length of copyright on the heels of their property being set to expire.

As things stand today, copyright beings the moment of creation, and a firm date is created the moment you die (shifted to the end of that specific year.) That number is either 50 or 70 years, expressed as "50 years plus the life of the author." That's for people, not corporations, because a clause like that would mean a work remaining out of the publics hands for the life of the company, which would theoretically exist until the end of the human race.

U.S. corporations would like to see this number extended to 90 years, meaning essentially that the copyright on a picture drawn by your 4-year-old child in 2007 would, if that child lived 70 years, not expire until the year 2163.

Where am I going with all of this? The Utah Pirate Party is a homegrown extension of a political party in Sweden that lay somewhere between no copyrights at all, and extremely liberal copyrights that make copyright incentives effectively useless.

I disagree with that philosophy as a writer and have general disgust for people who want IP law abolished altogether. The Utah party would like for the copyright length to return to its original 14 years, which I find completely unacceptable. In this day and age, many people who write for a living earn residual payments on things they've sold right up until they day they die. Think about George Lucas for instance, do you think Star Wars will ever go out of vogue?

While Lucas may not need that money, the overwhelming majority of content creators in this country certainly do. In fact, that's how they make a living. If a screenplay I write today falls into the public domain in 14 years, there wouldn't be any incentive to make a sequel, because anyone could make one. I'd stop getting residual payments for it and possibility of an anthology of follow-up stories would be gone forever.

The original Harry Potter book by J. K. Rowling for example would fall into the public domain in just four short years. Does anyone believe that the author of something so wonderful should be deprived of its ownership like that? I certainly don't, not in just 14 short years.

I suspect the most beneficial middle ground is the life of the author, period. A person cannot benefit from something once they're dead, and they ought to be allowed to benefit from their work for as long as they are alive to enjoy it.

This system is unbalanced and geared towards corporate greed, let there be no doubts about it. It has to come back if this system if IP is to once again benefit the public as much as it does the author, but swinging it back as far as the Utah Pirate party wants it to would only hurt the author will giving away too much to the public.

As they said, while it would be great to get rid of a dictator, there's little point in simply replacing him with another.


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