Innocent consumers are being bothered by another round of the record industry behaving badly, via more lawsuits and anti-copying threats. This time, though, I’ve got a solution. We should do what we do to children who misbehave: Take away their privileges. Here’s the deal.
How about we cut the copyright terms down to five years. Retroactively. So now “Stairway to Heaven” is in the public domain. Hey, the ongoing RIAA lawsuit problem is gone in one fell swoop.
Do I hear some objections in the courtroom, like if we cut down copyright protections, artists lose out? This would be a legitimate complaint if artists really benefited currently from copyright. But they mostly don’t. It’s generally the large corporations who extract the maximum benefit from their rights, and then trickle a little of it down to songwriters and authors. (Even a little blogger such as myself doesn’t own the rights to his own words; my employer does. Yeah, I know: “But they give you a job and they pay you.” Whatever.)
What about those who say copyrights are some kind of God-given right, which is our due under a capitalist system? That’s simply a misunderstand of their purpose. Copyrights, like patents, weren’t implemented to protect their owners in perpetuity. They are part of a delicate dance which attempts to balance societal benefits against incentives for writers and inventors. The intent is that you want to incentivize people to push the state of the creative and technical arts, but you don’t want give those folks such overbearing protections that future advances by other innovators are stifled.
Indeed, that’s the crux of the current debate over patents, where the thinking is that there are too many companies which are nothing more than patent trolls, and that their manipulation of the legal system is subverting the intent of the patents in the first place. Fortunately, what’s happening with copyrights is much easier to parse, mostly thanks to the ham-handed tactics of the RIAA.
Alert! This is a topical news article dated more than two years ago.