2001-2008
Home
Main
- About TFT
Friday Thing Archive
- Politics
- Media
- Culture and Society
- War On Terror
- People
- Places
- World
- Popped Clogs
- Music
- Books
- Film
- Etc
Help And Info
- Contact Details
- Advertising
- Jobs
- Privacy Policy
- XML Feed

Home > Media

Berne baby, berne

"The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 1998 (U.S.) was literally a "Mickey Mouse Bill". The 1998 statute was the result of intense lobbying by a group of powerful corporate copyright holders, most visibly the Walt Disney Company, which faced the imminent expiration of copyrights on Mickey Mouse and its other famous cartoon characters."

- from 'The Dead Poets Society: The copyright term and the public domain' by Matthew Rimmer.

1 August 2003

When America started, intellectual property was established from the get-go. The idea was to 'promote the Progress of Science' - to give innovators an incentive to invent. As a reward for coming up with Kewl Stuff, the idea goes, you get money for a while. For fourteen years, to be precise. Long enough that if your idea is decent enough, you get to live the life of Riley.

Now, there are some good arguments against this kind of protectionism. Margarine, incandescent lamps, cereal, stock cubes and milk chocolate were all invented in economies without patents. Novartis, Nestle and Unilever are all built on innovations which were not protected by the state in this way.

And yet, creative types want to get *some* reward for their work. At least at the time of making it. Jerome K. Jerome didn't get any money from the huge American sales of 'Three men in a boat', for example, but was fairly sanguine because of all the dough and kudos and pussy that his English reputation secured.

But as the law in America changed the fourteen years protocol, it wasn't creative types behind this. It was companies who stood to lose the most when works went out of copyright, because they could benefit even after the death of the artist, leading to the recent situation where artistic works remained in copyright until fifty years after the death of the artist.

Well, we say 'recent'. The copyright term seems to depend upon how close we're getting to Walt Disney's works entering the public domain. We know that they will, eventually. Not least because many Disney products themselves are based on artistic enterprises which have entered the public domain, like the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But for the moment, there's an impetus to periodically change the laws so that the retarded repulsive Duck called Donald will remain profitable.

Disney's antsiness is why Sonny Bono, by 1998 a member of the House of Representatives, proposed to extend the extra period to seventy years after the death of the artist. Sadly, the former fake hippie died in a skiing accident a few weeks later, and everyone voted for his crappy amendment in respect of his snowy corpse. 'Sadly', because material that should have entered the public domain by now is still behind closed doors.

Also, the situation is not always as clear as it is with Disney. Sometimes, if the artist has multiple or no heirs, it can be difficult to establish who owns it - but the copyright law tells us that it certainly can't be touched.

And, in the estimate of Supreme Court judge Justice Breyer, only 2% of this material has any commercial value. The rest - well, people would like to see it. The artists are dead. The material could be digitised, or otherwise preserved so that it doesn't rot (in the case of celluloid), or get lost, or whatever. Like happened with everything else before these laws. Digital storage and the internet mean that people could be enjoying and adapting this art right now.

Which is why two bizarrely-enlightened Representatives, Zoe Lofgren and Rick Boucher have proposed a patch to this legislation. The idea is that if you want to keep material out of the public domain for such a long time, you pay one dollar every ten years. This is to prevent works being restricted by default - as Reps Lofgren and Boucher put it, 'if the copyright is not worth even $1 to the owner, then we believe the work should pass into the public domain.'

The public domain. Where live Shakespeare and Newton and milk chocolate and how blood circulates. It's good to have stuff there.


More from Matthew Rimmer:

firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_6/rimmer/index.html

American readers should sign the Reclaim The Public Domain petition:

www.petitiononline.com/eldred/petition.html



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

Subscribe to The Friday Thing for free


 ABOUT THE FRIDAY THING
Bad words ahead The Friday Thing is a weekly email comment sheet. Casting a cynical eye over the week's events, it is rarely fair and never balanced.

A selection of articles from each week's issue appear online, but to enjoy the full Thing, delivered by email every Friday - as well as access to almost five years of back issues - you'll need to subscribe. It's absolutely free.

READERS WRITE
"Razor-sharp comment and gossip." - The Sunday Times

"Hilariously cynical..To describe it as 'irreverent' is to do the newsletter an injustice." - The Observer

"Sharp, intelligent, opinionated, uncompromising and very, very funny. Just like 'Private Eye' used to be." - Alec McKelland

"Wicked" - Channel 4

"Ace" - Time Out

"'We rise once again in advocacy of The Friday Thing. We realize that some of you may be unwilling to spend [your money] on plain-text comment, but you're only depriving yourself." - The Minor Fall, The Major Lift

"Subscribing to this at the beginning of the year was undoubtedly one of the better decisions I've made. Superlative, and utterly marvellous. I look forward to Fridays now, because I can't wait for the next issue. Fucking fucking brilliant." - Meish.org

"Featuring writers from The Observer, Smack The Pony and The 11 O'Clock Show... will continue to attract new subscribers sight unseen" - NeedToKnow

"The Friday Thing is so good it's stopping me from doing a bunk of a Friday afternoon." - Annie Blinkhorn (The Erotic Review)

"So now" - The Evening Standard

"Damn it, you rule. May you never, ever back down." - Paul Mayze

"Ace" - PopJustice

"Snarky" - Online Journalism Review

"Can you please stop making me laugh out loud... I'm supposed to be working, you know!" - Tamsin Tyrwhitt

"Your coverage of stuff as it spills is right on the money." - Mike Woods

"Popbitch with A-Levels." - Tim Footman

"In an inbox full of trite work-related nonsense, TFT shines from under its subject heading like the sun out of Angus Deayton's arse." - Nikki Hunt

"A first rate email. It's become an integral part of my week, and my life would be empty and meaningless without it (well, *more* empty and meaningless anyway)." - Mark Pugh

"Genius, absolute bit of class. And you can quote me on that." - Lee Neville

"If you're hipper than hell, this is what you read." - MarketingSherpa

"The most entertaining email I've had all week. Great tone." - Matthew Prior

"A massive and engrossing wit injection." - idiotica.co.uk

"I wouldn't know satire if it bit me on the arse. But I did like the Naomi Campbell joke." - Matt Kelly (The Mirror)

"Has had an understandably high profile among people who know about these things." - Guy Clapperton (Guardian Online)

"Satirical sideswipes at the burning issues of the day." - Radio 5 Live

"Puerile and worthless... Truly fabulous... Do read the whole thing." - Stephen Pollard

The Friday Thing 2001-2008 - All Rights Reserved