After 20-Year Delay, Works from 1923 Lose Copyright Protection

The damage done for Mickey Mouse in the name of Sony Bono is finally coming to an end.

Smithsonian (“For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter the Public Domain“):

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, all works first published in the United States in 1923 will enter the public domain. It has been 21 years since the last mass expiration of copyright in the U.S.

[…]

“The public domain has been frozen in time for 20 years, and we’re reaching the 20-year thaw,” says Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. The release is unprecedented, and its impact on culture and creativity could be huge. We have never seen such a mass entry into the public domain in the digital age. The last one—in 1998, when 1922 slipped its copyright bond—predated Google. “We have shortchanged a generation,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “The 20th century is largely missing from the internet.”

We can blame Mickey Mouse for the long wait. In 1998, Disney was one of the loudest in a choir of corporate voices advocating for longer copyright protections. At the time, all works published before January 1, 1978, were entitled to copyright protection for 75 years; all author’s works published on or after that date were under copyright for the lifetime of the creator, plus 50 years. Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse’s first appearance on screen, in 1928, was set to enter the public domain in 2004. At the urging of Disney and others, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, named for the late singer, songwriter and California representative, adding 20 years to the copyright term. Mickey would be protected until 2024—and no copyrighted work would enter the public domain again until 2019, creating a bizarre 20-year hiatus between the release of works from 1922 and those from 1923.

The Sonny Bono/Mickey Mouse law has had some perverse effects. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered April 4, 1968. Under the previous rules, all of his speeches and writings would have entered into public domain fifty years after that date—which is to say, eight months ago. Now, however, his estate controls rights through 2038.

The whole thing strikes me as absurd. Yet, unlike many, I don’t blame Disney but rather Congress* for taking a one-size-fits-all approach to intellectual property protection.

Honestly, it’s not clear to me why something like the “I Have a Dream” speech is copyrighted at all. It was public, political speech and should enjoy have been immediately in the public domain for the purposes of intellectual discourse. Scholars and journalists should have been immediately free to use full clips of it or quote it in its entirety for non-commerical purposes. And, at the same time, King and subsequently his estate should have had trademark protections against people selling t-shirts and the like with no transformative value for some reasonable period.

At the other extreme, it strikes me that Disney should have the exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse (and DC to Superman and Marvel to Spider-man) indefinitely, so long as they continue producing new works with those characters. There’s no obvious reason that creators should have to compete with others with their characters. And corporate entities have a legitimate interest not only in commercial exclusivity but in the protection of their creations from dilution and damage from outside entities. (One could imagine, for example, the proliferation of pornographic or scatological incarnations of Disney characters that would damage their brands in the public mind, making the legitimate version of them less valuable.)

Still, some of the analysis in the Smithsonian piece is overwrought:

This hole in history was accidental, but it occurred at a remarkable moment. The novelist Willa Cather called 1922 the year “the world broke in two,” the start of a great literary, artistic and cultural upheaval. In 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” were published, and the Harlem Renaissance blossomed with the arrival of Claude McKay’s poetry in Harlem Shadows. For two decades those works have been in the public domain, enabling artists, critics and others to burnish that notable year to a high gloss in our historical memory. In comparison, 1923 can feel dull.

But that was the year Noël Coward staged his first musical, the hit London Calling!, and Jean Toomer came out with his breakthrough novel about African-American life, Cane. Because access to these and other works from the year has been limited, our understanding of the tumultuous 1920s is skewed. That will begin to change January 1, when digital compendia such as the Internet Archive, Google Books and HathiTrust will make tens of thousands of books available, with more to follow. They and others will also add heaps of newspapers, magazines, movies and other materials.

Much the same will happen every January 1 until 2073, revealing long-overlooked works from the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, World War II and beyond. (After 2073, works published by authors who died seven decades earlier will expire each year.) “We’re going to open these time capsules on a yearly basis…and potentially have our understanding of that year and all the contents change,” said Paul Saint-Amour, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and editor of Modernism and Copyright.

“We can’t predict what uses people are going to make of the work we make available,” said Mike Furlough, executive director of HathiTrust. “And that’s what makes that so exciting.”

A work not being on Google Books or the Internet Archive hardly makes it “lost.” Indeed, those entities barely existed when the law in question was passed. (The Internet Archive debuted in May 1996 and Google Books wasn’t started until 1995; Google itself didn’t even come into being until September 1998.)  Somehow, scholars and critics managed to comment on James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and the Harlan Rennaissance in the days before the Internet.

Still, it has perverse impacts. As Noah Berlatsky noted five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of the Sonny Bono Act, the teaching of literature in classrooms was effectively stuck in time:

Whether you’re working on a textbook or creating passages for exams, every project has a limited budget—if you can use the public domain for free, you use the public domain. Moreover, getting permissions for copyrighted work can be difficult to impossible. Rights holders may charge exorbitant fees, or may place restrictive conditions on use—refusing to allow subheads, for example, which might be necessary to help students find their way in a challenging text. Even worse, there are many cases where you can’t find the copyright holders at all, or can’t get them to respond to you. Thus, costs of non-public domain texts generally include not just the fees themselves, but labor and frustration.

With all these hurdles and expense, there is a powerful incentive to use works that are already in the public domain.  When I first started to do educational writing 20 years ago, that meant using materials that were 75 years old. First it was works before 1920, then 1921, then 1922…I remember thinking ahead, greedily, to that time only a few years in the future, when I could present students with passages from Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, Zora Neale Hurston.

But that never happened. Instead, the copyright extension was passed in 1998, and works from 1923 forward were embargoed for another 20 years. Which means that for the bulk of my career, I’ve been going for examples to the same old texts—which are only getting older.

So what’s wrong with old texts?  Obviously, there’s a lot of great writing from the past, whether it be Jane Austen or Mark Twain or Isabella Bird—and I’ve used passages from all those people. Still, the fact is, language and life change over time. Shakespeare’s English is different from ours; you don’t necessarily want to use a passage from Hamlet to illustrate grammar rules, unless your goal is to completely befuddle your students. Much of the children’s literature of the past, which would be usable in terms of reading level, is couched in a sentimental idiom that is going to repulse most kids today, just as it would repulse most adults. And passages from before 1922 don’t reference the Internet, or television, or commercial air travel, or sports leagues, or even the highway system. The world of 95 years ago is very alien to a 12-year-old. Which doesn’t mean they can’t read about it, but it is an additional barrier to both interest and comprehension.

The biggest problem, though, is diversity. For many reasons—fewer educational opportunities, prejudice on the part of publishers, prejudice on the part of the reading public—the number of works by black writers before 1922 is limited. This is especially the case because educational publishers are often, shamefully, unwilling to include discussions of slavery in exam material on the grounds of “sensitivity.” The Harlem Renaissance, with Hughes and Hurston and all its wonders, is poised there in the mid-1920s—locked away for another generation when the Sonny Bono Act was passed. And there are even fewer works to choose from by Asian-American and Hispanic-American writers. Extending copyright, then, effectively leaves students listening to an America, and a world, that has the progressive racial representation and attitudes of 95 years ago.

Educational publishers do obtain more recent material to show kids. But the Sonny Bono Act has made it harder and more expensive than it needs to be. Extending copyright further would make it harder still. We have a public domain because giving people access to knowledge makes us as a culture stronger, smarter, and richer In the name of propitiating Disney, Congress is robbing the rest of us, adults and children both.

Beyond that, the Internet has doubtless changed the way we consume information. Most of us still expect to pay for novels and full-length movies (although that may be a function of age; it may be that those under 30 think those should be free, too) but have grown accustomed to news, commentary, and entertainment is available to us nearly-instantaneously and, alas, without paying for it. While companies have managed to claw some of that back, getting people to pay for content they had been giving away, copyright protection in the pre-Internet style makes no sense.

The recent commentary on the famous “I thought turkeys could fly” Thanksgiving episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati,” for example, pointed to the absurdity that the short clips from period rock-and-roll songs that served as the show’s soundtrack had to be stripped from DVDs and even syndicated re-airings of the show, effectively stifling the artistic expression retroactively. Or, even more stupidly, shows that film people’s homes have to digitally alter the video to blur out their artwork lest the production companies have to license rights. That sort of thing simply makes no sense.

_________________

*In fairness, it’s not just Congress, in that the US is not alone in this. Indeed, the UK enacted similar protections a decade ahead of us, presumably without Sonny Bono’s input; I have no idea whether Disney was involved.

FILED UNDER: Government, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    At the other extreme, it strikes me that Disney should have the exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse (and DC to Superman and Marvel to Spider-man) indefinitely, so long as they continue producing new works with those characters. There’s no obvious reason that creators should have to compete with others with their characters. And corporate entities have a legitimate interest not only in commercial exclusivity but in the protection of their creations from dilution and damage from outside entities.

    Forever James? Really? You are in favor of granting corporations yet another special right that no mere human can ever hold?

    The Disney corporation did not create Mickey Mouse. That person died a long time ago. The only interest corporations have is profit and they will sell your soul if it adds to their bottom line.

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  2. Mu says:

    I actually like the concept of separating individual work and “characters/concepts” in copyright.
    Put 50 years on individual works, but keep characters protected.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The Disney corporation did not create Mickey Mouse. That person died a long time ago.

    I think this is the crux. The ostensible purpose of copyright protections is that there not be a disincentive for creators of art to create and publish their works, for fear that others will reap the rewards of their creativity. This rationale clearly applies only to original creators — not to anyone who might later acquire the rights to the creative works.

    If I write a script and sell it to Disney, I have already reaped the rewards of my creativity. (Especially if my deal includes residuals.) If I am a salaried employee of MouseCorp, I have already traded my creativity for a salary, and have thus been compensated.

    As with patents, it is reasonable for there to be a limited period of monopoly rights. Disney isn’t going to pay me much for my script if they can’t make money from it, and we want artists to be compensated well enough that they remain artists. Ten years seems like more than enough for that purpose; indeed in the current market the shelf life of novel entertainment or literature is usually less than that.

    I’m even willing to grant an exception to individuals who choose to retain and license the rights to their creations. Let them have a lifetime monopoly, so long as they personally hold the rights, if that’s how they choose to manage their creations. But there is no rationale for multi-generation monopolies for scavengers of intellectual property.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT:
    10 years is not nearly enough. I wrote the GONE series starting in 2007. We are currently in the middle of yet another push in Hollywood. If my protection expired it would be a major corporation that exploited the rights – I’d be shut out, and my ability to protect my fans from lousy adaptations would end. We wrote ANIMORPHS in the 90’s and that, too, is being actively developed by a big corporation.

    A ten year plan would cripple creatives who would lose all power in negotiation with corps like Disney, Universal, Netflix… My IP is mine, just as my car is mine.

    1) While I live my stuff should remain my stuff. Full stop.
    2) When I die my stuff should pass to my heirs. But here there we should perhaps have a looser level of protection.
    3) I agree that at some point we have to draw a line and let IP go public domain. But it sure as hell isn’t ten years.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    One could imagine, for example, the proliferation of pornographic or scatological incarnations of Disney characters that would damage their brands in the public mind, making the legitimate version of them less valuable.

    Anyone is free to make pornographic, scatalogical, or even merely bad adaptations of Robin Hood, the Wizard of Oz, Hercules, Sherlock Holmes, etc. Yet all these “brands” still maintain a high degree of public popularity without a single corporate overlord to manage them.

  6. Jay Dee says:

    Copyright is messy. There is a story that Walt Disney first got in trouble for infringing on the Crusader Rabbit series. He then produced Mickelson Mouse. If true then copyright was a benefit.

    I think the better answer would be a copyright system where copyrights could be extended indefinitely by paying a periodic registration fee.

  7. Joe A. Herndon says:

    A strong argument can be made that copyrights and patents should function under laws similar to the General Mining Act of 1872. The two relevant provisions of that law were that anyone could very cheaply make a claim to a potential mine; but from that point had to annually “improve” the mine to a set amount of money, or sell what was produced from the mine for a similar amount, or they would lose their claim.

    The same should apply to the vast, but relatively unused libraries of copyrighted and patented content. Simply put: Use it or lose it.

    Disney is a good example. They hold many valuable copyrights, and as long as are profitable to a great amount, Disney should be allowed to keep this government largess. However, Disney also has a copyright on the movie ‘Song of the South’. They refuse to release it, or let anyone else release it.

    So why should they have a government monopoly on it, such as when the claim is requested, or proving its value by continued development or sale. But no government protection for hoarders, who own enormous libraries of content, but refuse to sell it or allow others to sell it.

    This would mean that if you had a new idea, you would get protection on it for say 10 years. But after that, you would have to produce it for sale on the market, sell the copyright or patent to someone else who could produce for the rest of that length of time for sale; both or whatever amount of value; or you would lose the government protection.

    Alternatively, by keeping it secret, you would never have or lose that protection.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    The value of Robin Hood is maybe a hundredth of a percent of the value of Spiderman.

    People are thinking about this all wrong. The big media corporations aren’t your enemies, they’re mine. I don’t get too worked up over some random dude illegally downloading a book; I would get very upset at being ripped off by Universal Studios.

    Once IP goes to the corps their only competition comes from other, equally well-heeled corps. The people who are crushed are the creators. The notion that this would produce anything other than more power and control to the big corporations is silly. Can you produce a Spiderman movie that would compete with what Marvel Studios can do? Of course not. Would Warner risk producing a competing Spiderman? Highly unlikely.

    No, what would happen is that creatives would be wage slaves, the corporations would have virtually all the power and control over content they enjoy today, and the consumer would benefit not at all.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @DrDaveT: @Michael Reynolds: I am not going to say much on the proper length of time for copyright protections. I can go along with Michael’s position on lifetime copyrights to at least some extent (more thought required) but find the passing of it on to one’s heirs problematic, as that rewards somebody for something they had nothing to do with at the expense of everybody else.

    My main gripe here tho is the corporate giveaway of the forever copyright. We don’t give away forever patents on new meds because it is in the better interests of society. I think there should be limits for copyright too, tho I am not at all sure of where exactly they should be.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    but find the passing of it on to one’s heirs problematic, as that rewards somebody for something they had nothing to do with at the expense of everybody else.

    How is that different from me dying and leaving my car to one of my kids? By your reasoning I should just leave it by the side of the road with the keys in it. Why is something I create less mine than something I buy?

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I find it as problematic as Fred Koch leaving everything to David and Charles. I don’t have any real idea of how wealthy you are but I rather suspect you will leave behind a rather substantial estate for your heirs even after taxes. As far as I’m concerned that should be enough of a leg up on those not as fortunate as they.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The Disney corporation did not create Mickey Mouse. That person died a long time ago. The only interest corporations have is profit and they will sell your soul if it adds to their bottom line.

    I see no meaningful distinction between Walt Disney and Stan Lee on the on hand and the Walt Disney Corporation and Marvel Comics on the other for these purposes. The purpose of IP protection is to incentivize creation and Disney and Marvel continue to produce a prodigious amount of high-quality content. Had there been no new Mickey Mouse universe movies, etc. since Walt’s death, I would absolutely want those creations in the public domain. Since they remain active, however, he’s effectively still alive.

    @Mu:

    Put 50 years on individual works, but keep characters protected.

    I’m amenable to that as a reasonable compromise.

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    We don’t give away forever patents on new meds because it is in the better interests of society.

    I don’t have a strong view on how long patent protections on medicines and the like should exist but see that as a very different issue than copyright. A given chemical formulation is value-neutral. The purpose of giving IP protection is to incent people/corporations to invest the time and energy to create new drugs. Similarly, having an expiration date on the patent incentivizes R&D into ever-better drugs (as well as slightly-different variants to keep IP protection, of course). Bayer may well still be living off of aspirin money with eternal patent protection. But people aren’t going to watch Steamboat Willie over and over; they want new Mickey content. So long as Disney keeps producing it, I see no reason they should lose their protection over their creation.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Whoa. Since when did ‘you’ve got enough’ become a principle of government in this country? What I leave to my kids is my business so long as I obey the tax laws.

    So, again: why is the car I bought mine, but the characters I created not mine?

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  14. ooddballz says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I must confess, I had never heard of your works before.
    I looked them up, and it sounds like something I would have enjoyed reading in my youth. I was a voracious reader and a huge si-fi fan. I hope you have continued success, as I believe young people actually READING is a good thing, and works that allow them to stretch their imagination are critical, perhaps even more so today than before.

    I am in agreement on the subject of allowing an artist retain the rights to their works for the term
    of their life, and perhaps allow their estate to retain the rights for a period of time with the ability to extend, for a price. My thinking being if the works retain a value to the heirs they can retain them, but if they wind up being an albatross, they can be allowed into the public domain.
    Kinda like the horridly ugly, useless heirloom that was passed down. The one that has no value, and nobody really wants, but no one can bring themselves to get rid of simply because it has been around forever.

    Or maybe that’s just MY family.

    Best wishes on your continued success.

  15. Teve says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: inheritance is a funny thing. 500 years ago if you were born to the emperor of such-and-such, it was understood that you now rightfully owned all of the lands of such and such. Nowadays we consider that ridiculous. but we think that it’s perfectly normal, if you’re born the heir to a hundred billion dollar corporation that you now own the corporation. In a hundred years we’ll look at that as equally ridiculous and destructive. several things that we take for granted as perfectly normal are really just artificial perpetuation of inequality and suffering.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    Had there been no new Mickey Mouse universe movies, etc. since Walt’s death, I would absolutely want those creations in the public domain. Since they remain active, however, he’s effectively still alive.

    Ummmm no James. He is dead. Dead dead dead dead dead. In the ground and rotted away. You see, here I am rooted in the actual real world realities and you are hanging onto the fictional constructs of… something or other.

    Walt is dead.

    but see that as a very different issue than copyright.

    I don’t. Who knows what might be imagined if people are allowed to?

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    why is the car I bought mine, but the characters I created not mine?

    That being the question you want answered, I’ll answer it:

    For both, neither are no longer yours The Very Second You Die. They are both left by the side of the road.

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  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Teve:

    several things that we take for granted as perfectly normal are really just artificial perpetuation of inequality and suffering.

    Yes. And while I am not certain as to where exactly those lines should be drawn, I am certain that there should be lines.

  19. Franklin says:

    If I may take a cautious step into philosophy here … the main goal of life for billions of years has been to reproduce, often including the protection of their young so that they may eventually continue the line. Lifeforms that failed to do so no longer exist. Humans with property rights can “protect their young” in a relatively new way, by passing on wealth (including the potential earnings of copyrights). This is a bit of a distortion of natural laws, although it seems fair given the benefits produced by innovative people.

    I don’t really have a point here, other than that I support copyrights for a good length of time. I’m not too big a fan of corporations holding onto rights forever, though: come up with something new and sell that, buddy.

  20. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Why is something I create less mine than something I buy?

    Because the argument is about the rights of the *creator* and your heirs are not the creator if they’ve been given them. They neither own nor buy in your analogy naturally but are gifted these things. I agree that copyright should be for the lifetime of the creator but then a clock gets put on it the second that creator leaves this earth. Feel free to bequeath them IP and the money it makesbut they should be treated no differently then someone else who’s acquired rights; those rights should expire the same as it would for anyone else. After all, “estates” can go multiple generations so how far out exactly should “heir”legally go – the son of the son who didn’t create anything but got rich when Daddy died but “owns” it anyway so he’s passing it on? There’s really no difference between Jr and MegaCorp in terms of deserving extended copyright protections for things they gained, not made.

    Why should the descendants of a creator get to hold IP hostage for money when they’ve done nothing but be born to the right family? Isn’t that why we let copyrights expire in the first place – because we don’t want ideas to be kept away from the public by people who aren’t creating but hording?

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Here is my main issue James: Corporations are artificial constructs of law. Over the years, they have been given exemptions from law that no man (except for those hiding behind a corporate structure) is immune to, and by law are given privileges that no man could ever receive.

    After my first post above I did a little googling about mine disasters (because they were the clearest example I could think of, of my main point of contention with corporate law) and I came across this:

    US Mine Disasters Fast Facts

    Crandall Canyon
    August 6, 2007 – Six miners are trapped at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah, when areas of the mine collapse.
    August 16, 2007 – Three rescue workers are killed and six are injured when a part of the mine collapses on them.
    August 31, 2007 – The search for the six trapped miners is officially called off and declared too dangerous for continued rescue efforts.
    May 8, 2008 – Rep. George Miller releases a report from the House Education and Labor Committee about the panel’s investigation of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster. He recommends that a criminal investigation be conducted.
    July 24, 2008 – The US government fines the mine operator, Genwal Resources,$1.34 million “for violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners last year,” plus nearly $300,000 for other violations. It levies the mining consultant, Agapito Associates, $220,000 “for faulty analysis of the mine’s design.”

    Ooooohh, they lost a nickel per share. They’ll never do THAT again.

    Upper Big Branch
    April 5, 2010 – 29 miners are killed in an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in Naoma, West Virginia.
    April 29, 2011 – Massey Energy agrees to permanently seal the Upper Big Branch mine.
    May 19, 2011 – According to the Governor’s Independent Investigation Panel’s report, the explosion was preventable and due to safety system failures.
    December 6, 2011 – The Justice Department announces a deal where the new owners of the Upper Big Branch coal mine will pay a $209 million settlement, including $1.5 million to the families of each of the 29 men who died.
    January 10, 2012 – The owner of the West Virginia mine settles the wrongful death lawsuits with families of all 29 victims of the Upper Big Branch disaster. CNN confirmed that the settlement was reached in mediation for seven of the cases on January 8, 2012, and 22 of the cases on January 10, 2012.
    February 22, 2012 – Gary May, the Upper Big Branch mine’s superintendent at the time of the explosion, is charged with conspiring to impede the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts at the mine between February 2008 and April 5, 2010. He pleads guilty in March 2012.
    February 29, 2012 – Hughie Elbert Stover, former security director for Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine, is sentenced to 36 months in jail for making a false statement and obstructing the government’s investigation.
    June 20, 2012 – Alpha Natural Resources seals the Upper Big Branch mine permanently.
    January 17, 2013 – Gary May is sentenced to 21 months in prison and three years supervised release.
    September 10, 2013 – David Hughart, the highest-ranking company official, and former Massey Energy division president, is sentenced to 42 months in prison for violating mine health and safety laws.
    November 13, 2014 – Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, is indicted on federal charges for conspiracy to violate mandatory mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and for securities fraud.
    December 3, 2015 – Blankenship is convicted of conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards, and is acquitted on two other felony charges.

    April 6, 2016 – Blankenship is sentenced to a year in federal prison.
    November 28, 2017 – Blankenship files election papers to run for US Senate.

    Crandall Canyon was owned by a subsidiary of Murray Energy. Notice that no corporation spent a single day in jail. Notice also that not a single person was charged with being responsible for the deaths of 38 miners, the longest sentence any one received was 42 months and Don Blankenship received only a one year sentence. After which he had the chutzpah to run for the Senate.

    Not a single person was charged with manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary. Somebody should have been held responsible for these deaths, but the best our legal system could do was “42 months in prison for violating mine health and safety laws.” (sucked to be him)

    In other words, I have a BIG problem with corporate law, and your stated position re corporations and copyrights is just one more example of why corporate law needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

    Like that will ever happen short of a constitutional amendment.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Franklin:

    the main goal of life for billions of years has been to reproduce, often including the protection of their young so that they may eventually continue the line.

    Agreed, but I think there should be limits. For instance I think that Michael (not to pick on him) should be able to bestow on his children all the benefits of being born to a…. “privileged” family, as long as he is alive (in other words he can give them the best education, and gift them with as much money as he sees fit (within the confines of tax law)) up until the second he dies. After that, they have to earn it. After all, who doesn’t think Paris Hilton should have had to?

    I know, the meritocracy is a bitch.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Sorry James, lots of blockquote fail there, but I think you can figure out what is mine and what isn’t.

  24. KM says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I know, the meritocracy is a bitch.

    It’s one of the truest tests of one’s belief in meritocracy to see if they leave their kids anything substantial (ie not tchotchkies or sentimental items). A lot of people rationalize it with “well, if they waste it, at least I tried to take care of them and it was their choice” but it’s still wealth they didn’t earn.

    I have a college friend that married into a very wealthy old Virginia family. She was so smug at the thought that when the matriarch passes, her husband (and thus her) would be set for life. Yeah…. thing is, this family believes rather firmly that wealth was *earned* and you didn’t inherent jack. Each generation was responsible for making its own money and buying the things they wanted from the older generation – oh, you want that house? $5m or you could go halvies with a cousin and get a share of the property. Maybe if Gamma loved you best you might get it down to $2m but somebody’s got to pay for her retirement splurges and that memorial wing at the hospital. They were incredibly privileged, went to the best schools and had the best connections to make use of their talents…. because they knew they’d need it to support themselves. They push their kids to excel rather then rest on laurels. The guy she married happened to be that generation’s dud and they live in a modest little apartment, bitter AF that the genetic lottery didn’t pay out. They’re welcome to any property or to attend any vacation but they need to pay their fair share ( a generous offer that’s been extended to me in the past and I took advantage of when I could). My friend’s husband isn’t poor by any means but you’d never know he grew up in the 5%.

    *That’s* meritocracy – your family can give you every hand up possible but in the end, you are responsible for earning your own way in this world. I think it’s admirable to want to give your kids the world you built but in the end, all you’re doing is making sure they won’t be building a world to leave their kids. Unless you get lucky like this family and keep producing talented successes, you are giving your children a boost and your grandkids future disappointment.

  25. Gustopher says:

    I’m not convinced we should have a one-size-fits-all policy for copyright on music, musical performances, political speeches, novels, comic books, scripts, movies and television shows.

    The natural lifespan of each of these works is different, the cost to produce is different, and the way others would use them is different.

    The underlying music, words, characters and concepts should have less protection than the performances, to encourage the reuse and adaptation. Music used to reference other folk songs all the time, something that has fallen out of favor because of copyright.

    Culture should belong to all of us.

    I would prefer short copyright terms, with the ability to extend it if you can show that it is still in print at a reasonable price and still worthy of protection — it’s in use, it’s generating money, it’s being used for further creative works.

    I would also favor compulsory licensing. After N years, someone should be able to create a derivative work. A new Superman story, or a new Gone book, without needing the permission of the original creator. That licensing fee should drop over time.

    I’d be ok with a special exception for tv and movie rights to short stories and novels — let that drag out longer.

    Simply — the “I have a dream” speech, delivered in public, to a national audience, should belong to the people, while at the same time we protect the massive investment required to make a Hollywood blockbuster. The cost of production and the way it was distributed should matter. And the text of the speech should be freely available before the performance of that speech.

  26. Kari Q says:

    The only copyright protection for books and works of art produced by individual creators that ever made sense to me is “life of the author + XX years.” I think 20 is high enough for XX, but opinions vary. No author should outlive their copyright, ever.

    Corporate copyrights are, of course, completely different; they are essentially immortal so there’s no “life of the creator” option there. My instinctive, not at all thought out but kinda feels right, reaction is 100 years. Why? Well, it’s long enough that anyone involved in the creation is probably dead and it would give the corporations who control them amply time to recoup their investment. Additionally, anyone who worked to create the content is probably also dead and won’t lose any potential benefits.

    Why would “100 years, then it’s all public” be a problem? Not a rhetorical question, I’m looking for explanations for why “Disney should have the exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse (and DC to Superman and Marvel to Spider-man) indefinitely.” I don’t see the reasoning behind it. I’ve read James’ comments and I’m just not getting it.

  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM: @OzarkHillbilly:
    I think you’re both sidestepping the question. If I own a car I can leave it to my heirs, yes? If I own a business I can leave it to my heirs, yes? Well, guess what? Creating characters and stories is my business, and unlike a car, I created it. It did not exist, and the it did.

    So what you’re proposing is that I – and others in my class – should be uniquely deprived of the right to pass on property to kids. Not a guy who owns a factory. Not a guy who owns a house. No, the only class of people who must be deprived of the property rights everyone else enjoys, is people in the creative businesses.

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  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    Culture should belong to all of us.

    Is that so? Then why don’t you create it?

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  29. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Give or take everyone creates art. Often terrible art, that has no value, or a weird turn of phrase that gets used in a small community but goes no further.

    In every culture, we start with some form of art being common property — the stories and the songs of folk music. The performers were compensated, but the authors were not, as the songs and stories had no single author, having been passed from performer to performer, with changes and embellishments at each step of the way.

    Traditional folk music in the US, up until the early to mid 1900s was like this. You will find dozens upon dozens of variations of “Froggie Went A’Courtin’” with wildly different stories (they get eaten by a snake, Miss Mousie gives birth to furry tadpoles, Froggie slaughters Miss Mousie’s suitors like in the Odyssey, etc). I do a fine blending of the traditional song “Jesse James,” and Woody Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ” which he set to the same melody (Jesus robbed the Glendale train)

    It’s only with mechanical reporoduction that copyright even becomes an issue. We don’t need the performers as much, and if we want art to continue, we have to find a way to ensure they can make a living.

    Your novels aren’t so original. Nor are anyone else’s. They are based on tried and tested structures of other novels, with characters that borrow from existing archetypes, and situations that are similar to Stephen King’s “The Dome” (perfectly willing to believe that they both borrow from the same place, just as the national anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn’t copy Monty Python’s “Every Sperm Is Sacred”, they both borrow from previous works).

    You borrow, you build on it, you combine it in new ways, and you return it in the end. The only question is when.

    I think we look at copyright backwards. There’s a lobbying arm of Disney that wants to ensure that the rights of creators or corporate owners are maximized, but there isn’t a similarly powerful group ensuring that things do get back to the public domain.

    Rather than asking how to protect the IP owners, we should be asking how do we ensure things get back to the public domain, and what levels of limited monopoly are needed to ensure that artists continue to create.

  30. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So what you’re proposing is that I – and others in my class – should be uniquely deprived of the right to pass on property to kids.

    No, I said you have the ultimate, unquestioned right to pass property along to your heirs. What I’m saying is you don’t have the right to pass along the creator copyright protections you have along with it. Rights aren’t property, the IP is.

    To use the car analogy, your heir gets the physical car but not the licensing or registration in your name, nor any special discounts you may have gotten on the insurance or anything else. As far as the law is concerned, the car is now theirs and must be treated as such – registered under their name to legally drive, taken in under their insurance and liability is now attributable to them. They don’t get your senior / military / membership / etc discount either unless specified so as far as the government is concerned, new owner means fresh start. Inheriting a car should make zero diff to the DMV when you go to file that paperwork then someone who just bought a car (idk for certain as this have never happened to make but makes sense)

    We’re saying rights are not inheritable like titles. We’re saying you can pass on the manor but not the knighthood. We’re saying you can leave your kids something valuable but they are not you and shouldn’t be treated like you. Let them have copyright protection but not for life and limited in scope. You speak often of your children and how wonderful they are – I’m sure they’ll do well with what you’ve taught them and their natural talents with your estate to boot. They’re not being cheated Micheal, they’re being treated like everyone else who manages to acquire copyrights to things they didn’t make.

  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    What a load of bull. First, for the record, I came before Under The Dome, as Steve – and yes, I get to call him that – has publicly acknowledged.

    Second, no, sorry, we don’t all create culture. Whether or not we weave strands of existing culture together is absolutely irrelevant. A mason uses pre-existing gravel to mix concrete, does the eventual wall he builds belong to everyone? I work. Every single day, I work on creating culture. Do you? This is the arrogance, the Philistinism with which people treat writers and all creatives. Everyone thinks they could do it, oh sure, they could, but they’re busy, um, doing something else. So, hey, what’s the problem with just stealing someone’s work since you know, some of those ideas were used in some other work?

    My work does not belong to everyone, any more than yours does. By what right do you presume to dismiss my ownership over my own work? La di da, culture is universal, man? The hell it is, I fcking work my fcking ass off as does my wife as do most of the writers I know.

    Tell you what. Why don’t you sit down and write a carefully-researched 1500 page alt history of WW2 – I mean, all those battles happened, so they aren’t original – as I did, and when you’re all done you can come back and tell me how it’s all culture and it’s all free and so on. Or you could just tell us what you do for a living and let us know when we can come by and take your work product for free.

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  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:
    You’re straining so hard you should keep some Advil close at hand.

    When I die my kids can have my car. Right? They can stick it in the garage and do not a single thing with it, and yet, surprisingly, were you to come along and take it from their garage, you’d be arrested. For car theft. Let me ask you: when you die can the whole neighborhood come and take all your stuff? No? Why not? After all, your kids didn’t do anything to earn or make that living room furniture, did they?

    We’re saying rights are not inheritable like titles. We’re saying you can pass on the manor but not the knighthood.

    A knighthood? It’s not an honor that’s been conferred, it’s work I did. It’s something I created. It did not exist, and then I did some work, and it did exist. You can rationalize all you like, but it comes down to you believing that you have a right to take what I made which is superior to my right to pass what I made along to my kids.

    Why? Why do you get to pass all your stuff along to your kids, but I don’t. Why exactly am I a second class citizen?

    I am happy to get behind some rationalizing of copyright law, but if your opening gambit is that my work is either not really mine, or not really work, then all bets are off. The work is mine. I made it. You want it? Then pay me. If you believe intellectual property isn’t as real as your living room furniture then you need to explain why. Because I’m sure your kids will do just fine without the stuff you own and hey, I might really like your sofa.

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  33. Kathy says:

    Copyright is ultimately a matter of permissions. People concerned about the public domain availability of works and characters, can easily grant permission to everyone and anyone for unlimited use of their works free of charge.

  34. James Pearce says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Then why don’t you create it?

    A little humility would be nice. As James points out “The purpose of IP protection is to incentivize creation” not to give your heirs a large, profitable estate.

    I want content creators to live long enough to see their own work enter the public domain. They’re artists, not empire-builders.

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  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:
    I’m sorry, a little humility? Would you like to know where to shove that?

    Oh, thank you guv’nah for lettin’ me type on my keyboard and make up my humble stories, I’m ever so grateful, and ever so ‘umble.

    You know what percentage of the human race can do what I do? Very, very damn few. Put it this way: the odds of getting through Harvard law school and joining a major NY or DC law firm are far, far better than the odds of making a good living for 30 years as a creative.

    Like I said: you do it. Go right ahead. No one’s stopping you. The barriers to entry have never been lower, so jump on in there Pearce, and you’ll be rich, rich I tells you!

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  36. Bill says:

    @Gustopher:

    Your novels aren’t so original. Nor are anyone else’s.

    Please say that again to an author of a short story where a Wizard’s apprentice turns a man and woman into dung beetles.

  37. James Pearce says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You know what percentage of the human race can do what I do?

    Among literate people, 100%. You don’t publish first drafts, so don’t even pretend what you do is based on “talent.”

    The barriers to entry have never been lower

    And that’s why it’s utterly absurd to think your kids should have a piece of your IP. Anyone can do it. The barriers to entry have never been lower. And your IP empires aren’t going to be as valuable as you hoped.

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  38. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds :

    I am happy to get behind some rationalizing of copyright law, but if your opening gambit is that my work is either not really mine, or not really work, then all bets are off. The work is mine. I made it. You want it? Then pay me. If you believe intellectual property isn’t as real as your living room furniture then you need to explain why. Because I’m sure your kids will do just fine without the stuff you own and hey, I might really like your sofa.

    And you’re doing a lot of emphasizing on the “Yours” part. I’m happy to pay you for what’s yours. I’m happy to let you leave what’s yours to whomever you choose. What you are failing to understand it’s it’s not yours anymore when you give it away or die. I’m not trying to be rude but your whole argument is about your rights to do what you will with your created stuff and it centers on the fact that it’s yours. Once you’ve bequeathed something (meaning your intentions were followed), it ceases to be yours and becomes theirs. Now it’s a debate on whether someone who’s gained rights to something not their own make via inheritance should be treated differently then anyone else who’s acquired rights to something not their own make via other methods.

    This has nothing to do with you being a “second-class citizen” and everything to do with the fact that your and your heirs are separate entities – hell, even you and your estate can be considered such. You as the creator entity have and should have certain rights we label as copyright protection solely due to the fact you are its creator. You can will everything you want to your kids but you cannot will them the fact that you, the creator, are not them. Explain why we should pay your children after death the exact same way we pay you when they are not you under the logic that creators should have exclusive rights and they’re not the creators. They should get paid for what you’ve given them, yes because that’s your intention but with a limited copyright that doesn’t last their lifetime. We tie the rights to the creator – if that’s not the optimal way, fine but that’s the logic we’re using.

  39. KM says:

    @KM:
    Addendum to my last post: You’re mixing up “rights” and “property”. Copyright protection is a inherent right to the creator and more like a privilege to non-creators who acquire it afterwards. I call a privilege for lack of a better term because it’s something I’d pay for, not be automatically granted as a non-creator upon obtaining IP. You can obtain IP and not have full rights, copyright or otherwise. I don’t get why if I (as myself or a corporation) were to buy the rights to your IP I’d be any different then your kids being gifted it other then a familial connection. That’s why I used the discount analogy – they’re situational and generally tied to individuals that can’t get passed along. I don’t get to claim union membership rights and discounts despite my parents working for one for decades and being rather involved in the process. I want those rights, I need to apply to get them as a child of a union member if that’s allowed. Otherwise, I’m the general public – full price, please.

    I think you are arguing for rights and property to be inherently linked and stay that way after inheritance because that’s the will of the creator. That’s where our disconnect is coming from. I don’t think rights should be inherited but rather re-issued in limited format to heirs upon the creator’s death so that eventually the works hit the public domain like the law intends. You believe them to be one and the same and feel we’re stealing something from your kids.

  40. Jay L Gischer says:

    For what it’s worth, I ascribe to the idea that copyright is not a ‘natural’ right. It doesn’t flow from long traditions between human that pre-existed the practice of law, whereas personal property rights – to your car, your clothes, your weapons, and so on – did.

    Copyright – the right to exclude others from reproducing your work for commercial (and other) purposes – was created in the 1600’s on behalf of and at the request of the book industry.

    In a country such as China, they are fairly happy to respect your claim to your car and your clothing and your stereo, but not to your artwork – because copyright is not a natural right.

    Which means, this is policy that I feel free to advocate for what is best for the industry and the country as a whole. I think it’s a good thing, mind you, but it is a good thing that we should feel free to tweak to serve our interests.

    For instance, I’m happy to give Michael his bargaining power with the corporate bigwigs. How long should that extend past his death? 70 years is too much, but nothing is probably too little, going back to the bargaining power and, uh, stability of contracts with regard to the death of a creator.

    I am unconcerned about claims that this will ruin Mickey Mouse, or Spiderman or something else. People will make good stuff, and bad stuff and mediocre stuff. Nothing will stop that, or even tweak the proportions.

  41. Gerald says:

    The Constitution clearly says that intellectual property is not the same as physical property. You have permanent rights to that car you own. The Constitution very specifically only grants creators temporary rights over their creations, so that society as a whole benefits.

  42. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You know what percentage of the human race can do what I do? Very, very damn few.

    To just do it, many. To do it well, very few.

    We could use a kind of “American Idol” for writers. We’d see how many people think they can write.

    Coming up with an original idea is not that easy. Developing into a story is harder. Putting it all down on paper, or screen, is even worse.

    Once upon a time, a movie director and special effects specialist conceived a system called Showscan, which would change how movies are made and seen. He never implemented it, not in movie theaters, but came up with a compromise, where some scenes in a movie would be shot at a higher resolution (70mm vs 35mm film) and at a higher frame rate (60 fps vs 24 fps).

    The movie made using this compromise system was called Brainstorm. If you’ve heard of it, odds are it’s because it was Natalie Woods’ last movie. It was not a successful movie.

    I saw it on a flight from Mexico City to New York in the early 80s. It had an intriguing idea, several stars, and a new visual system. It lacked a good enough story. I recall that much about it. it was the kind of story I call a “so what?” story.

    Granted I did not experience the new visual system. But a memorable movie can be more than just a visual masterpiece. Consider a movie that found success only after its run in theaters, “The Shawshank Redemption.” It’s got good cinematography, to be sure, but no effects or any other stunning visuals. but it has a great story, great characters, and great character interactions.

    Another such not-very-successful movie is the original “Tron.” I love it. The story isn’t much. The acting is just ok, as are the characters. But the visuals are amazing. You can just see the movie, not watch it. And no movie then or since has matched it, not even the sequel many years later.

  43. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:

    Explain why we should pay your children after death the exact same way we pay you when they are not you under the logic that creators should have exclusive rights and they’re not the creators.

    Explain why if you leave your kids a house they can’t rent it out. You didn’t even build the house, you just bought it.

  44. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    I got to go with my wife to Pinewood the big UK film studio where they were filming an adaptation of one of her books, The One And Only Ivan. The amount of work and imagination and skill just to create the massive set we were on was absolutely stunning. I mean, stunning. A small part of that set was to create a working class Florida bungalow interior and it was so effective, so real and detailed and right that both Katherine and I couldn’t stand it because it evoked too much of our impoverished past.

    A tiny part of the ‘mall’ set was a front for a bowling alley. The bowling shoes were bought new and aged and scuffed to look real. The worn edges of the desk, the random marks, the cracks in the linoleum, I mean, it was amazing. We spent the whole time going, “Jesus Christ these people work hard.”

    Dozens and dozens of people, each of whom has his/her job by virtue of hard work and talent, did amazing things. And that’s before you get into the work of the actors, the director, all the assistants at various levels, the producers, the techs, and the amazing work that goes into motion capture and CGI.

    I recall that much about it. it was the kind of story I call a “so what?” story.

    It’s hard giving a story ‘heart.’ Especially in movies where the whole thing is so reductionist, so minimal.

    There’s this idea among amateurs that it’s all about having an idea. No, it’s about having an idea, and then about a thousand more ideas, to get from page one to the end. Each new scene you want it to be something no one has ever seen before. Each new scene – and there are hundreds in a book – I consider the tropes and then figure out how to defy, subvert, re-purpose or all else failing, lampshade that trope, so that I can surprise, so that I can bring character and story forward and avoid letting my readers relax into the expected.

    The perfect example is the one @Gustopher offered: King’s Under the Dome and my Gone have some things in common. But only the superficial things. Read both books and you see they have very little in common as to setting, characters, style, philosophy, etc…

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  45. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Explain why if you leave your kids a house they can’t rent it out.

    Depending on where the house is, the agreements in place and the laws of the area, they might not legally be able to even if you want them to. Just because you will something to someone doesn’t give them complete free-reign – context matters. AirBnb isn’t allowed everywhere for people who bought their house or inherited it since it makes no difference.

    Look, let’s get back to the original post. Disney the Company wanted the copyright for Mickey extended. Well, Walt the Creator founded Disney the Company personally and clearly intended for his company to maintain creative control after his death. Why isn’t that being respected if that’s what Walt willed? He had troubles with copyrights before (Oswald for starters) so he deliberately set up his creation under a company under his control. Now, that company still exists after the creator’s death so why isn’t his intention being respected if he willed it to his company / heir or through actions before his death? Either creator intentions for their property matter or they don’t – if Mickey was Walt’s property and he gave it to the company deliberately, then creator intention means copyright for Disney forever and always, amen.

    Additionally, P L Travers clearly stated in her will she wanted Disney to never, never touch Mary Poppins IP again and yet her estate sold out. They are clearly violating creator intent and desire in regards to copyrights so the question is: is it still yours or theirs when they decide to take the corporate cash grab?

  46. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ll give you a practical thing that can be done right now, without legislation, that would advance the cause of access to copyrighted works: make a central database with the work and the rights owner. Put it all up in public so that when I want to use a snippet of song lyrics in my books it isn’t a labor of Hercules just to find who owns the damn thing.

    In an open, accessible market, I’d be able to see what’s what, who’s who, and what the prices are. So would everyone else, which would drive the prices down and increase access and increase earnings for rights holders. I’ve had everything from Agent Orange saying, “Sure dude, go for it,” to Axl Rose’s publisher IIRC asking for ten grand, to Paul Simon taking two full years to respond to a request to use two fcking lines of The Boxer, and then, uselessly, granting me free use of the lyric long after I’d given up. My wife tried to chase down a poet for months and finally just made a donation to the library that houses the poet’s work.

    I don’t know what the engineering equivalent would be, but in the writing world how about just rationalizing things so they work?

  47. Teve says:

    How TF did that post as Gerald? I’m quite happy with the pseudonym I have thank you very much.

    (I think Gerald was in autocomplete because I used it at uncommondescent.com, a creationist website where they ban us science types as soon as they notice us.)

  48. Teve says:

    make a central database with the work and the rights owner. Put it all up in public so that when I want to use a snippet of song lyrics in my books it isn’t a labor of Hercules just to find who owns the damn thing.

    I thought there were things like ASCAP that did that.

  49. Teve says:

    @Kathy: when the Tron sequel was terrible it was a sad day, same as when the blade runner sequel was terrible.

  50. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:
    The issue is not creator intent, it’s ownership. You’re treating IP as something inferior to real property. You can leave a house – your property – to your kids and then they can do whatever they want with it, right? Maybe you wanted them to paint in pink, they don’t have yo, and yet they get to keep the house. Intent is not the issue. This is about property rights and I have not yet heard a rational explanation for why your property rights with real property are superior to mine with IP.

    You can’t get there without deciding for reasons unexplained, that your house or car or sofa can be passed on, but my property cannot be. So, why? Why is a character I created not a sofa? Why this reverence for the physical over the intellectual? I’m open to argument, really, but so far I’ve got @Gustopher drastically misunderstanding what creative work is, and your position which does not, in my opinion, address the core issue.

  51. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Teve:
    You’d think, wouldn’t you? I pitched a trilogy concept called ‘Sixties.’ Basically Haight-Ashbury, Carnaby Street, Vietnam. But I knew I needed music. I couldn’t do it without lyrics. And as we got into the weeds on what that would mean – hiring an outside firm for thousands of (my) dollars, and then funneling more thousands of (my) dollars into the pay-outs, which could range from zero to ‘OMG are you kidding me?’ I could have written all projected 1500 pages in less time than it’d take to get clearances. If it were all out there in a single location I could shop around, and in the process, access would increase, prices would drop, and more creatives would make more money.

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  52. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The worn edges of the desk, the random marks, the cracks in the linoleum, I mean, it was amazing. We spent the whole time going, “Jesus Christ these people work hard.”

    I’ve never been involved in making movies, but I know a bit about it from my reading and from watching TV shows about making movies. One takeaway is that everything you see on screen is placed there by someone, even in real locations.

    In the original “Total Recall,” parts were shot on Mexico City’s subway, and outside the Insurgentes subway station. They’re recognizable as such if you’ve seen them, but completely redone (like even the storefront signs and billboards were redone in English).

    There’s this idea among amateurs that it’s all about having an idea. No, it’s about having an idea, and then about a thousand more ideas, to get from page one to the end.

    This I do know. People forget you have to write every word in every scene, including all the dialogue. That’s why cliches are often used: they’re work that’s already been done.

  53. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    I’d have forgiven that movie, including the fact that Tron hardly appears at all, if they’d stuck with the visuals of the original movie.

    One positive I can say about it, is that they took their plot device machine seriously. Therefore if it can turn people into bits, it can also turn bits into people. That was nice.

  54. James Pearce says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I could have written all projected 1500 pages in less time than it’d take to get clearances.

    And if all that great old music from 60 years ago was in the public domain, you wouldn’t need any clearances.

  55. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The Disney corporation did not create Mickey Mouse. That person died a long time ago. The only interest corporations have is profit and they will sell your soul if it adds to their bottom line.

    The point about characters like Mickey Mouse is that they are more complicated because corporations are always producing new content with them. The US comic book industry relied on the fact that more than 50 years old characters could be used as an asset, and in some sense licensing with Batman and Superman helped to pay the bills.

    Besides that, it makes no sense to guard copyright of valuable books that should be in public domain just because Disney needs Mickey Mouse. It’s a compromise.

  56. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You’re treating IP as something inferior to real property.

    No, I’m just not a fan of creating dynasties that control ideas for cash when they didn’t create them. I see very little difference between a grandson asserting rights to something he had zero input in making vs a company that purchased it do the same. I know a lot of people complain that “corporations can’t die” but the thing is if we’re passing things along to the kids, bloodlines tend to go on for quite a while as well. And when they inevitably do come to an end, either a corporation gets it or the government if you die interstate so we really should be careful in how “inheriting” works – a corporation can be willed IP the same as a human so I’m in favor of limitation as a matter of course.

    I really think extending copyrights past their date is a bad idea but I can’t justify denying Disney without logically doing the same to inheritors. Disney does more with their IP in terms of creation and usage then most inheritors ever will so it’s self-defeating to the argument to not take their side…. and I really don’t want to. As stated before, full rights to the creator for life but inheritors gets a ticking clock, same as everyone else.

    your position which does not, in my opinion, address the core issue.

    Because we’re disagreeing on what the core issue is. You’re viewing in terms of ownership and possession – mine is that rights are not transferable, privileges are.

  57. Grumpy realist says:

    Michael—don’t confuse IP with actual property. It’s a completely different bundle of rights. It’s more a right to exclude rather than anything else. A car is different from the material in a book. Once you give the car away you don’t still have it to give away. But the contents of a book can be given away over and over again.

    From this simple difference between physical property and intellectual property flows all the differences in how said property is treated under law. If copyright holders get too piggish in the view of everyone else in society the protection of copyright will become diminished, either de jure under new legislation, or de facto as fewer and fewer people care about the morality of copying.

    (My own solution to copyright length is to have renewals like trademarks but with exponentially increasing fees. If you don’t think it worthwhile to pay the fee, then it goes into the public domain and doesn’t come out of it.)

  58. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You’re treating IP as something inferior to real property.

    Yes. Precisely.

    Keep in mind that, until quite recently in history, IP was not any kind of property at all. The revolution is to grant some property-like rights to IP; nobody (until even more recently) ever tried to claim that it was just like real property.

    The reason for this, as pointed out occasionally above, is that the general welfare is served if creative people have incentive to continue creating. If people can’t making a living writing/painting/photographing/etc. because their wonderful creations get stolen and mass-reproduced before they ever reap the market value of them, we are all poorer. Nobody disagrees with this.

    But that’s the entire purpose of IP protection, legally — to make sure that creators are willing to keep creating. It is not anything beyond that. It is not a statement that intellectual property should be treated just like real property. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with ensuring the financial security of the descendants of creative people. Inherited wealth is generally bad for society, regardless of source. Inheritance taxes make sense.

    As I originally wrote but you apparently missed, I have no problem with you retaining complete IP rights for as long as you personally choose to. Once you convey them — be that by selling them to Amazon.com or by dying and leaving them to your kids — the owner is no longer the creator, and the social reason for protecting the monopoly no longer applies. Some residual period of monopoly is necessary in order for the commodity (or bequest) to have value, but it is no longer serving the purpose of incentivizing creativity.

    …And since you asked, the fundamental difference between IP and the truck you bequeath to your kids is that the truck can’t be duplicated. You can bequeath the original manuscript of one of your works to your kids, and they will own it the same way they own the truck. Copies of the text of that manuscript, or of the first edition, or of any other edition, are not like real property precisely in that they are not singular and finite and fixed.

    Unlike some of the posters here, I am very aware of how rare the gift is that can produce durable culture. That doesn’t change the fact that the artist is utterly distinct from everyone else, when it comes to the social motivations for protecting IP. As I originally said (but you seemed to miss), if you choose to retain rights in your works, I’m happy to let you enjoy those rights for as long as you live. And to bequeath residual rights to your children, for them to enjoy for a limited time, because that too provides incentive for you to continue to create. But just as society has an interest in promoting creativity, it also has an interest in breaking up monopolies and making culture free to all. Monopoly rights in perpetuity are clearly not consistent with that. The only real dickering is over just how long rights should last, and who should enjoy which rights. A sharp line between the creator and everyone else seems like the easiest, fairest, and most consistent with the social goals that I can think of. If you have a better proposal, I’m all ears.

    (And if we want to talk about similar limitations on ‘real’ property, beyond inheritance tax, that would serve the public best, that is also a potential area of reasoned debate.)

  59. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m an engineer, and not only was I intimately involved in a bunch of now expired patents (I argued that it wasn’t all that novel, so the company left me off the patent apps… at three different companies), but some of my work has been open sourced, and projects that I have helped define have been copied elsewhere, particularly the novel little bits I had a direct hand in.

    I’ve explicitly trained junior engineers to do things in the Gustopher Manner, so they are fault-tolerant and self-correcting , and require less operational maintenance. Just as someone before taught me to do things in their way, which I then modified to fit evolving tech, needs, and my own random prejudices.

    Engineers — we take what came before, we tweak it, we do a few novel things, and we release it into the wild.

    How does that differ from what you do? My pay is more guaranteed, so I don’t need a whole lot of protection, and no one is talking about extending patents to life of the holder plus several decades.

    Engineering works because we build on what came before, with modest incremental changes. Writing does the same thing — if you did something truly unique, it would just baffle people, or dramatically change the world. It’s hard work, but lots of things are hard work that aren’t protected.

    Designing bridges, advancing techniques in masonry, writing software, flipping burgers… all hard work, with wildly different levels of protection.

    Why should the arts be so dramatically more protected?

    If, instead of writing novels, you were making cancer drugs, you would get patent protection for about 20 years. Are your novels more important? Of course not, it’s a stupid question.

    There’s a balance between the public good and the creators effort that IP protection tries to handle.

    It’s not real property — you can convert it to real property by selling it to someone who can capitalize on it, but it’s not real on its own. The only value comes from the IP protections granted by government, as proxy for people.

    How long do you think a novel should be protected? And protected from what? If someone’s awesome Gone fan fiction is a brilliant, marketable thing, for how long should they be prevented from marketing it? I’m not saying I have an amazing story about the GoBots trapped in that bubble experimenting with bondage, but I’m not saying that I don’t….

    Should a song have the same protections? What if that song is played so often that that everyone knows the words or the melody? Does that make it more protected or less? Does that make it part of the culture?

    What if it is broadcast on public airwaves through people’s physical bodies, shouldn’t people own what enters their bodies uninvited?

    That last question is more for fun than the rest…

    (Also, life of the author plus N decades just advantages authors who produce while they are young. Never liked it.)

  60. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I am, predictably, closer to your side than the other… but I also believe that there is a greater culture which is created by art and then builds on it. And so I do believe in a copyright that expires. For me, I’d probably put it at fifty years after the death of the author — that means even if the author died at the moment of his child’s birth at least two subsequent generations benefit from the works before they are released to the public. It’s simply not possible to see unfairness in a great-grandchild not being allowed to control or even profit from the works of this distant relative…

  61. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “Among literate people, 100%. You don’t publish first drafts, so don’t even pretend what you do is based on “talent.””

    What?
    You think that first drafts come from talent, and everything else comes from somewhere else?

    You know less about creation than you do about politics, and that’s saying something.

  62. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    For me, I’d probably put it at fifty years after the death of the author

    Just long enough to be forgotten…

    You think that first drafts come from talent, and everything else comes from somewhere else?

    You have a gold medal in misunderstanding me. Michael’s over here believing his own press, saying -quote– “You know what percentage of the human race can do what I do?”

    Yeah, anyone with the gift of language can do what you do. It’s work (lots of drafts), not magic.

    1
    1
  63. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “Just long enough to be forgotten…”

    Yes. That’s why the Doyle estate is desperately trying to claim that Sherlock Holmes is still under copyright, even though only the very latest stories are. Or why it’s a huge deal that the works of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft are coming into the public domain. Because anything that old must be worthless. That’s why no one ever makes movies from plays by Shaw, Wilde and Shakespeare anymore — who the heck has heard of them?

    Oh, and under death+50, the recordings of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin would fall out of copyright the year after next. But of course, they’re completely forgotten, too. Everything by Faulkner, Hemingway and Steinbeck would have been PD for most of this decade. Forgotten, too, I’m sure.

  64. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “Yeah, anyone with the gift of language can do what you do. It’s work (lots of drafts), not magic. ”

    So you think that everyone just magically sees how to make a manuscript better every time they do a new draft? You really understand nothing about anything — surely there must be one subject in the world on which you have some actual knowledge. We all wait breathlessly to discover what it could be.

  65. James Pearce says:

    @wr: Name one of Doyle’s contemporaries. Name the other writers that appeared in the same pulps as Howard. H.P. Lovecraft might still be read today (although probably not by SJW types) but he was publishing alongside people you never even heard of and will never read.

    Some things endure. Most do not.

    Here in the 21st Century we have the awareness of that, and the technological ability to make sure that all things endure. Nothing need go out of print, except to satisfy the desires of entitled heirs, who in some cases aren’t even people, or lazy archivists.

    So you think that everyone just magically sees how to make a manuscript better every time they do a new draft?

    I do not think there is anything “magical” when it comes to writing. It’s a process. Anyone can learn it. Anyone (literate) can do it. Yes, some can do it better than others.

    But it’s just work. It’s not legerdemain.

  66. wr says:

    @James Pearce: Sorry not to engage with your usual Pearcean Firehose of Distraction, but what in God’s name is your point?

  67. James Pearce says:

    @wr: I guess you’ll never know.

  68. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    I do not think there is anything “magical” when it comes to writing. It’s a process. Anyone can learn it. Anyone (literate) can do it. Yes, some can do it better than others. But it’s just work. It’s not legerdemain.

    You are Piers Anthony, and I Claim My Five Pounds.

  69. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: Authors who wrote detective stories in the Victorian period, hmm? Edgar Allen Poe, R. Austin Freeman, Baronness Orzy, Wilkie Collins……Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott….Katharine Green. That’s just off the top of my head and I haven’t even started digging that much down into my memory.

    It’s not our fault that you’re not a reader.