Why copyright should not be infinite, in a nutshell

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Something else to consider: if copyright were extended to infinity who would own, say, the works of William Shakespeare? Presumably in the absence of an heir the rights would go to the highest bidder, effectively putting Hamlet et al out of reach of small theater troupes unless they could pay.

At least that’s the argument I’ve used when discussing this with a family member who believes copyright should be infinite and retroactive.


In Disney’s live-action Cinderella, a character is seen reading from Samuel Pepys’ diary and a different character sings a song from Shakespeare’s “As you like it”. This all happened in a rather old story whose plot has popped up in storytelling traditions all over the world, independently. It was almost as bad as when Disney tried to assert copyright over Pinocchio.


Retroactive infinite copyright it totally insane because it’s worse than that. The effect would be to completely eliminate all work beyond a certain age from public view entirely as it creates massive lawsuits over ownership or orphaned, economically non-valuable work (where owners will be popping out of the woodwork once anyone does anything with it). Even in the absence of children, someone was an heir. This is an issue as it is - figuring out who owns copyrights to works created in the 20th century is alright impossible in many cases. (See, for example, the Lovecraftian horror story that is the copyright for HP Lovecraft’s post-1923 work.) Hell, there are works created in the last 20 years where no one knows who owns the copyrights thanks to a series of buy-outs and collapses of the copyright holding corporations. So if we’re going to extend copyright backwards, there would still be a copyright holder, even if you couldn’t figure out who it was. (Retroactive copyright where you immediately follow it with an act of legislative taking kind of defeats the purpose.) Plus there’s the whole derivative issue. Disney’s work was based on public domain Brothers Grimm work, which was in turn based on works of the public domain - do we allow such retroactive infringement to exist? Who owns religious texts - e.g. the Bible and all its variants? You’ll have more than legal battles fought over that one.


You copycats are just jealous of my Amphibolos Uruktor. Ford and GM should have to pay me royalties forever!

Signed, Oliver Evans.


Can someone please explain how stronger copyright increases the cost of creating new works?

For starters, the aggregate increase of costs related to research, licensing, and lawyering in general to access markets


Still a bit confused.

Aren’t the costs you list associated with administering rights and not the cost of actually creating that new work?

Someone has to pay the piper, or in this case, the lawyer. Or invest an ungodly time to do the research themselves, and then have nobody but themselves to get blamed, and sued pants off their arse, when they unavoidably omit something - I can imagine lawyers paying for, and getting, some sort of insurance against this.

Such infinite paperwork and money strings attached to everything will stifle most of independent, not corporate-vetted and corporate-backed, creativity.


welcome to boingboing. now we’ve caught your interest with intellectual property issues, check out some of the other posts and comments. be sure and use your like button to let people know you appreciate them.


Every time this topic arises, I am reminded of Spider Robinson’s “Melancholy Elephants” SF short story. I haven’t seen it laid out any clearer.


(Free to read, about 20 mins, entertaining and well worth it)


Hugh Hancock had an interesting post related to this on Stross’ blog, that sort of explores how copyright has affected the stories we tell



So, you’re saying that creating new work incurs costs for the creator?

Interesting proposition.


Let’s say I’m inspired by a particular story and want to explore some detail of it at length, so I write an original song about X.

If X is in the public domain, I put the song online and sell downloads, helping support myself as an artist.

If X is protected by strong copyrights, I pay to license my own song before I can do anything with it. My cost has gone from $0 to a nonzero amount. Depending on far too many variables to list, this could be anywhere from pocket change to tens of millions of dollars.

For someone with the weight of a major label behind them, this is not insurmountable. For someone like myself, sitting and recording music in my spare bedroom, it makes attempting to earn a living prohibitively expensive.


Imabout to copyright speech acts so alla y’all gonna owe me!

This is helpful.

So in other words, the “cost of creating new works” referred to in the article means the cost associated with creating a derivative work or otherwise using someone else’s work as part of your new creation?

I obviously totally missed that on first read and took it as covering much more!

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Also, all works are necessarily derivative. Otherwise you’re just outputting randomness.


I think copyright law has a technical formulation of what a derivative work is. It distinguishes it from an original work.

The problem is that everything can be tracked down to some predecessor. Or at least something sufficiently similar to attract lawyers. See the various already existing lawsuits over several notes long pieces of music.

Nobody would benefit but the overpaid parasites.


No creator needs more than forty years to capitalize on their innovation, and probably wouldn’t suffer with twenty.

Terms of 50+ years have nothing to do with creation, and everything to do with control and taxing the pulsation for trying to access their own culture.

Look at Disney - milking their old creations is profitable purely for the purpose of profit. Disney is long dead. His heirs didn’t create the works. His shareholders didn’t create the works.

This is a cultural system of landed gentry.