Monday, July 16, 2007

Proponents and Opponents to the CTEA, and Changes to CopyRighteous

As with any worthwhile cause/fight, the CTEA has those who support it and those who oppose it. And when it comes to public domain, people who are somehow invested in intellectual property get pretty passionate.

Supporters of the CTEA were, unsurprisingly, copyright holders, especially entertainment corporations like Disney and artist estates. (Some people even called the CTEA the "Mickey Mouse Act" because Disney wanted to prevent old Mickey Mouse cartoons from becoming public domain works.) Opponents to the CTEA included libraries, scholars, researchers, and educators.

In the previous entry, I went over some of the reasons why Congress passed the CTEA. These were all reasons the proponents of the CTEA agreed with. If their creations (or their parents' or grandparents' creations or their corporations creations) were permitted to go into the public domain, the proponents would no longer benefit financially from them. Some proponents also argued that if these works were allowed to go into the public domain that they'd be converted from their original purpose into something perverse or unrecognizable. So in addition to the benefits of exploitation, the proponents wanted to maintain creative control over these copyrighted works.

Opponents argued that the continual lengthening of copyright terms meant that there was no limit to the time frame Congress could grant to copyright holders and their estates. The longer these terms became, opponents argued, the closer the U.S. slipped to perpetual copyright--something that would eliminate the addition of new works to the public domain entirely. Opponents also argued that the majority of copyrighted works were only profitable the first few years after they were created, and then either went out of print or otherwise became unprofitable. By extending the terms of copyright, these works were being kept out of the public domain--where they could potentially be discovered by others--for a longer period of time. Due to this limited period of profitability for most copyrighted works, opponents argued, there was little economic incentive for most people to have such a long copyright term. It only really made sense for corporations and franchises and for those wildly successful artistic works that are few and far between.

But the public domain doesn't encourage the creation of new works, argued CTEA proponents. The incentive to create new works lay in the fact that copyright protected the author's work (and paid off for the author's descendants) in the event that the work did become financially successful.

Opponents countered by saying that the public domain needed to be constantly replenished in order for artistic creation to continually flourish. Artists needed to be able to draw on previous works without fear of infringement. Besides, said opponents to CTEA, preventing works from going into the public domain is harmful because it prevents access to the many intellectual property works that are not famous or commercially exploited and that are not available for the public to access and use due to the extended copyright. Sometimes the copyright holders of these works die without an estate, or forget they even own a copyright, or just disappear. And many of these people's works become what is known as orphan works--works that are no longer in print or easily accessible to the public but that, due to copyright terms and extensions, aren't due to be in the public domain for who knows how long because no one knows if the holder is alive or dead. Orphan books are a fascinating chapter of copyright that I do hope I can explore more deeply in the future.

Another reason CTEA opponents clamored against it is that evolving technologies like the Internet and other forms of digital media mean that there are many more avenues for people to access intellectual property. Having a bigger public domain means that more material would be available to more people. But proponents of CTEA want to exploit these new media as new revenue streams.

Constitutional scholar Lawrence Lessig and electronic publisher Eric Eldred took the case that copyright extension was unconstitutional to the Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft. You can read more about the case here and an article by Lawrence Lessig here that explain more about it. Also good to read is the following article debunking the "myth" of public domain. (Be forwarned: it's long. Really long. And it has many footnotes. I wish I could share my humorous comments that I made on it throughout, but I have no idea how I'd upload a PDF on here.)

I honestly have much more to say about public domain and my thoughts on it. I believe that the public domain is a good thing, and I believe that having access to works such as orphan works is vitally important. I believe that evolving technologies are making the sharing of information so easy that to deprive people of works they should be able to access but can't is a detriment to society. But I also believe that the creators of intellectual property should have a right to benefit from their creations, and to allow their next of kin to benefit from them as well. So I hope that copyright terms are not extended again, because with people's longer life spans, that means that it will take even longer for works to reach the public domain. I am also glad for things like Creative Commons, which allows people to choose how much copyright they want to keep and to what degree they want to protect their work.

Clearly, there's much more to say, and I do hope to carry on this discussion about Creative Commons, orphan books, and online publishing and cataloging projects like Google Books. But I've actually decided to take this project in a different direction for the duration of the semester, and I hope you'll all join me for the ride.

For the remainder of my project, I've chosen to focus on how copyright affects authors. It's all fine and good to talk about all of this stuff theoretically (which I've been doing for the most part until now), but now I'd like to apply it in a very real context that is relevant to my career choice of publishing and that also applies to many of my readers and colleagues, who are authors or involved with authors themselves. I'll be examining some cases in publishing involving writers' rights issues and I'll be looking at copyright issues in the context of author contracts. I'll also take a look at subsidiary rights. Basically it'll be a look at the legal process that goes into making a book and the ecconomics of copyright. So my hope is that this will serve as a sort of go-to guide for people who want to know more about their rights as writers.

Once the project ends and I've completed this leg of it, I'll probably continue to read and post about some of the other issues I mentioned above, because they really do interest me, so I hope you'll all stay tuned...

No comments: