Changing the Current State of Copyright Laws
The history of laws dictating the ownership of intellectual property dates back to the guilds of medieval time, in which one group would define everything about a trade, from prices to tactics (History). Afterwards in England, the “Statues of Monopoly” act allows the inventor of an idea to have complete exclusive access to his idea for 14 years, afterwards being entered into a “public domain” in which anyone could manipulate the idea (History). At this time in the United States, the term of copyright protection of published works (after 1977) lasts for the life of the author with an additional 70 years after their passing. The original intent of such laws was to reward the original inventor or thinker by punishing those who tried to copy the work verbatim under a different name, eventually turning into solidarity to the idea, requiring anybody else to request access to the idea in order to use it, even paying for rights to it (Goldstein). Now, copyright affects music, ideas, filmography and animation, and using the work without permission infringes on the right of ownership, causing issue. At this point in time, the length of the term has been gradually increasing; however, instead of promoting diversity in usage, people are more scared of infringing on not-so-clear rights in turn reducing innovation and ideas. The term of the copyright law should be reduced, the circumstances in which a work goes to the public domain widened, and the circumstances where of suing for infringement lessened.
Proper usage of copyright restrictions leads to an increase in productivity and economic power, but excessively restrictive copyright laws serve no purpose at all, or hurt such fields. At its core, copyright exists because of the profits derived from a work: if enough people pay money to display, alter, parody a work, then making it persists as ‘worth it’. A producer gets copyright ownership from an artist and then distributes money as royalties based on every copy of a work sold, an industry possible because of the existence of copyright laws. “[I]f a work has commercial value, copyright’s aim is to put that value in the copyright owner’s pocket” (Goldstein 4). The goal means to provide the original creator with compensation of their work; the public agrees on that much. The real divide centers on how long one has ownership, low long others cannot freely add to the idea. Fair use, an exception to copyright law, allows limited usage of copyrighted items without permission from the author that applies to industries such as commentary, education, research, news reporting and most relevant in the modern time, search engines. Economic analysis reveals that “[f]air use industries grew at a faster rate than the overall economy,” accounting for “19.7% of U.S. real economic growth” from 2002 to 2009 (Griffin). The corporate giant Google proves that the intellectual property market can only continue to grow and serve to help the economy, even when permissions are not explicitly given. Regular intellectual property industries should only profit more as they receive direct compensation. Technological companies get better productivity with a competitive yet standardized market, artistry receives payment from their work reaching the public and the middlemen get a cut of the profits. A reasonable limit to the length of the copyright protection encourages modifications to whatever technology, idea, work of art. However, recent data and economist analysis suggests that “increasing copyright term beyond 50 years does not provide additional incentives to invest’ (Griffin). This happens because planning that far into the future is ridiculous as things are never set in stone for fifty years in the future. There exists no reason to continue extending the length of protection for that long, there lies no feasible benefit for the original creator or supporting business after that length. In fact, “[the] current regulatory environment in the U.S. has had a negative impact on innovation. (Griffin). Innovation leads to economic investment and growth of industry; however, heavy regulation and the threat of infringement lawsuits leaves little incentive to innovate. This causes less money to move into startups and more monopolization of already massive industries. “Drawing the line of copyright infringement too short will fail to give the original author his due, but extending too far will make it hard for other writers to earn theirs” (Goldstein 2). This demonstrates the main problem surrounding the length of term, the line where it is fair to both sides is very fine, but at the moment, it lies overextended and punishing to others.
The reasoning behind further extension claims to further ensure “adequate copyright protection” and the “continued economic benefits of a healthy surplus balance of trade in the exploitation” of works (Senate). As stated before, a longer copyright term does not explicitly cause an equally increased economic benefit, and an extra twenty years (added to 75, or life of the author plus 50) barely affects the longevity of a work. When the current iteration of Copyright Term Extension occurred in 1996 (passed in 98), a sub-purpose addressed was to “enhance the long-term volume, vitality, and accessibility of the public domain” by “stimulating the creation of new works and providing enhanced economic incentives to preserve existing works” (Senate). The creation of new (original) works was stimulated by giving more time of protection; No additional economic incentives were really given by the law itself other than a hopeful twenty years of income; of all, the public domain was left even worse off because of the act. Essentially, no work created after 1923 that was renewed at least once would be introduced into the public domain until at least 2019 (Jenkins). Bambi, by Felix Stalen initially published in Austria then rights sold to Disney, will finally be put into the public domain, a whole 95 years after its publication. The story of the doe in the forest will finally be able to be published with maybe the fish in the pond, or the alien in the planetary system, or whatever the creative mind of the public could do. When It’s A Wonderful Life entered the public domain after 28 years of limited success and a failed copyright renewal, it became a staple for the holidays (Jenkins). After receiving better reviews and status, the original copyright owner retook control from still owning the rights to the musical score, even though the movie itself was part of the public domain (Jenkins); now, exclusive rights to a once public movie are owned by a single broadcaster, now with much fewer showings and a denied sequel (Jenkins). The entire movie shows the success of the public domain: the movie failed in theaters but upon entry into the public domain, it was revived. The bill in 1976 also automatically copyrighted anonymous works and furthered copyright protection on orphan works, or works whose holders are unidentifiable (Jenkins). This does not benefit anybody at all; if the work remained anonymous and was never registered for copyright, it automatically entered the public domain, but now even when no one can stand to profit, the restrictions to the public still stand for at least 120 years (Hirtle). Moreso, works that did not even attempt to receive copyright protection are actually protected longer than works who attempted but failed at the process (Hirtle). Why are unpublished works by unknown authors covered by copyright protection when there exists no compensation to be given, when instead they could be entered into the public domain for creative purposes?
The current methodology of being able to mark intellectual ideas and contest them in court goes against the original purpose of “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (Constitution). A common strategy in intellectual property law attains the rights to a fundamental part of something, essentially letting one own the entire concept, even if the entire concept stays unavailable (just like It’s A Wonderful Life). In the Oracle v. Google case, Oracle sues Google for infringement of the API (application program interface) of Java after Google develops software with Java (as to not require a new language or setup) and Oracle recently copyrights the API as something separate, not an inventive patent, but as creative writing. “To sanction copyright, not on the workings of a computer program, but on the ways of using that program, would be to sanction monopolization of those fundamental elements that enabled such competitive growth” (Duan). To provide an easier example: it is like if the action of glassblowing, of heating glass to adjust the shape, was copyrighted instead of a specific facet or design on glassblowing that was made by one person for profit. To further compare the problem, Oracle’s actions essentially copyrighted the devices used for glass blowing as some sort of creative medium, like sculpture, preventing all uses under protection of copyright law when normally the devices would be under somebody else’s patent law. This prevents innovation and promotes the monopolization of a way of doing, especially in an ever-growing industry of computer science which uses written software that can be considered creative work. At that point, the furthering of science is neglected, instead the act was out of sheer monopolistic desire; compensation for the exploitation simply becomes exploitation of an outdated system (1998). This case showed overlap between patent law and copyright law in which by classifying a “functional element of the work” as terms for copyright, segments of patent law–normally used for inventions–are subverted (Duan). Along with the patent law, copyright law is also undermined because the distinction between creative works and functional inventions are blurred. This case separates from the economic examples because there are no music producers or publishers in the technology industry, instead the spoils of success come from marketing, from production, and from patents. If the holder of copyright chooses to bar others from using their work, nothing can stop them because they’re given “a monopolistic right” (Griffin). In the above case, Oracle targeted Google by getting copyright privileges after Google had created the software, punishing Google for no reason, but at the same time discouraging usage of the Java API which had previously been open-sourced. If the inventor of something revolutionary wants to profit from their work at the same time as furthering technology, they can through patents; if the inventor of something wants to profit from their work, but not further the betterment of technology, it should not be through copyright. If “compensation” inhibits “progress,” progress should come first.
To address all of these problems, one must balance a hearty, growing public domain with a term long enough to help the creators, but short enough as to not discourage investment or negatively impact the economic benefits, with an overall tightening up on the law as to discourage suing for infringement for the sake of ruthless business. One method to address the first two problems is the actual passing of the Public Domain Enhancement Act. This act would require an owner to pay a measly fee of one dollar after a work has past the fifty years plus life of the author and ten minutes afterwards, else the work would enter the public domain (Gasaway). When “only 2 percent” of works from the “first 20 years affected by the Copyright Term Extension act have any lasting commercial value” (Gasaway 12), this would allow for the regular length of time (life plus fifty, which complies with international trade laws) while also letting more works (that no longer affect anyone) to enter the public domain. Also, the section in the Copyright Act of 1976 in which unpublished works (never registered) and anonymous works are automatically protect should be removed, allowing such works to be modified and improved upon by the public instead of sitting unchangeable, never meant to be published. To prevent sudden hostile action on one building off work, it can be made such that one can sue on the grounds of infringement only if the case at hand occurred after the issuing of copyright protection. This lets owners whose rights were actually infringed upon to punish the infringer, while preventing owners who seek to unfairly profit from trials exclusively. Also a clear distinction between creative works and inventions must be created, as to prevent another Oracle v. Google situation where copyright law was used to prevent usage of a patent protected program. To do this, the ruling that “no copyright may inhere in functional elements of work” must be enforced, perhaps by requiring research into effects of copyrighting an already existing work (Duan). Practical arts should not have copyright protection as well as patent protection; if a work is protected under patent law, any part of it should not be allowed protection from copyright law.
Essentially, the current term should be set at the life of the author plus fifty years, with some system of checking for if the owner cares about the work (if they do not, then the work goes straight to the public domain), and then for however long the owner is willing to pay for it; then, unpublished works and anonymous works should be placed immediately into the public domain, with any works from before also being let into the public domain. Infringement claims can only be prosecuted if the case occurs after the copyright hold finishes filing (with ample time of notification) to prevent hostile actions and to promote progress of the science field, not the pockets of companies. Lastly, a clear, unpassable line between invention law and copyright law must be created and enforced to stop the two fields from interfering with one another.