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Copyright reform

Copyrights that don't automatically last "forever"
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Since the U.S. Congress keeps extending the term of copyrights, they effectively last forever (contrary to Congress' constitutional authority). Remember, the point of copyrights is to encourage the creation of works that will eventually enter the public domain, for the benefit of everyone. The current copyright fails that objective in a number of ways.

What if copyrights worked more like patents, where you have a maximum possible term, but you had to make periodic maintenance payments to keep the patent in force? (Should those payments go up over time?) Right now there's all kinds of old software that's been effectively abandoned, but is still not free to use because someone somewhere owns the copyright. With this proposal, once the owner no longer considered it worthwhile to pay the maintenance fee, the work would become public domain.

(Note that it was in fact the case in the past that US patents had a single renewal point at the midrange of the maximum duration, but that is not currently the case.)

Another problem with the current system is that they allow copyrights on "unpublished works". This is typically done for software source code. This is obviously completely contrary to the purpose of copyrights. Instead, it should only be possible to copyright works that are deposited IN THEIR ENTIRETY with the copyright office, and available for public inspection. That way once the copyright expires, the work does in fact enter the public domain. If a software company or author didn't like this, they could rely on trade secret protection instead.

----- Added June 24:

Another idea for limiting the term: allow "unlimited" renewals, but for exponentially increasing fees. Make the first five years $100, the next five $200, etc.

brouhaha, Jun 15 2000

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       Well, technically US copyrights are still finite, so I don't think we could get any court to declare them unconstitutional...   

       Requiring software to publish the source for legal protection is, on the other hand, a very good idea.
cosma, Jun 16 2000
  

       U.S. Copyright term has on average been extended more than one year per each of the last 30 years. There's no sign of this trend will stop. If that's not unlimited, what is? I think it conceivable that a court would recognize this. There's a suit already being fought.
brouhaha, Jun 16 2000
  

       There was a dissent in one of the Circuit Courts of Appeals recently that noted that the continual extension of the finite dates was effectively infinite. It's taking a while, but judges are noticing this and there's reason to hope that they'll step in.   

       I fully concur with regards to the publishing and archiving point.   

       My idea, for when I rule the world (it's inevitable, so get used to it ;): *Term of 20 years *A single 20 year extension is possible. However, the cost is $5,000 or 1/100 the total gross of the work, whichever is greater. *Terms end at the death of the author (barring works for hire) *Extension fees are dedicated towards archival (see below) and the comissioning of new works to directly enter the public domain. *Registration with the Library of Congress is manditory, as is publication. Archival-quality copies of the work that might be needed to reproduce/modify it later must be filed. Insufficiently creative works are rejected. *Handling fees to cover the costs of the Copyright Office and Library of Congress are included. *Acceptance of a copyright waives any extensions that might later be granted *Proper copyright notice must be included, or copyright is waived (as with the pre-1976 rules) *Common Law copyright reinstated (but still very limited)   

       Just watch for me to carve my face into Mt. Rushmore -- then you'll know that my reign has begun, and that the above rules are in force.
cpt kangarooski, Feb 14 2002
  

       Egad.  What an enormous subject.  My 2¢ is that, whatever transpires in copyright law, the concept of "fair use" be adequately protected.  I fear that fair use could be lost in the onslaught of heavy-duty digital rights management technologies that are beginning to show up, and that would be a tragedy.
bristolz, Feb 14 2002
  

       I was wondering if it would be more reasonable to return copyright to the original 14+14 years, and then charge individuals or companies a fee if they wanted to extend it beyond that. This way, individuals who wanted to keep commerically viable works under protection could do so, but would return something to the American people (the original intent was to return the work, but perhaps fees are a middle-ground). It would allow non-commerically viable works to fall into the public domain more quickly.   

       Lets say for example after 28 years you would have to pay a fee of $10,000 times the number of years over the original 28 to extend the copyright. So the first year you pay $10,000, the second year $20,000, the third $30,000. So to extend your individual copyright 10 years, you have at least given the country back $550,000. Continue to extend it to 20 years, and you are in the ballpark of $6 million. So - if Mickey Mouse is worth $750,000 a year after 75 years, Disney can decide to pay the American public (instead of lobbyists and Senatorial campaigns) for continued protection. They just wouldn't get a free ride.
trekbody, Feb 13 2006
  

       //exponentially increasing fees// Or Zeno-like exponentially decreasing renewal periods. $100 for the first 5 years, $100 for the next 2 1/2 years, etc.
spidermother, Feb 15 2006
  
      
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