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October 01, 2005 | Suw Charman Anderson

Should the term of copyright protection be extended or shortened in the UK?

RSA, IPPR, PCMLP Lecture Prof. Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons John McVay, CEO of PACT (representing film and TV producers) Adam Singer, CEO of MCPS and the PRS (musicians' royalty collecting societies) Moderated by John Howkins, RSA My preamble I really enjoyed this debate, although I was a little surprised to see quite a lot of agreement between the panellists. Not sure how much of this was just out of a desire on the part of John McVay and Adam Singer not to get into a fierce debate in public, and how much was genuine agreement with the points that Larry Lessig was making. But I was pleased to see Adam and John take the stage with Larry - Adam joked a couple of times about how he'd get fired for publicly agreeing with Larry, and I there were definitely undercurrents that some of his constituents would likely not be happy with this event even taking place, so all credit to him for resisting pressure and helping make this debate happen. It would be easy to paint the industry as the antichrist, and in fact I have heard Adam described as just that (ironic, then, that he joked about how some people in the industry see Larry as the antichrist). But picking an extreme standpoint and sticking to it is not always the best way to progress towards a reasonable compromise and it was encouraging to see Adam acknowledging some of Larry's points as valid and to see Larry suggesting potential middle paths. I do have to disagree with Larry on one point, though. I don't think copyright term extension in the UK/Europe is inevitable. Maybe I'm just being optimistic, but software patents were defeated, and I think that we can defeat term extension too. But we need to start debating this in public now, not wait until it gets to a crucial juncture in parliament. So, now, on to the notes from the evening... Larry Lessig, Creative Commons RSA appropriate place for this discussion. It's remit is to encouraging new arts and invention, but through prizes rather than monopolies. In the 17th/18th centuries, monopolies were unpopular. Monopolies - such as those on golden thread or playing cards - were abused, and response to abuse was resistance to monopolies. Statute of Anne, to 'encourage learning', 14 years renewable once for new, 21 for existing work. 1731, interesting question was would copyrights expire? Publishers insisted copyright was perpetual, despite Statute of Anne, claiming that common law granted perpetuity. In 1735 they asked for a term extension but were defeated. In 1737 they asked again, and were again defeated. In 250 years since then, this history has been forgotten. Discussion of monopolies is not about limits or balance, specially in the context of copyright, instead have a race for increasing copyright term. Germany +70, 'to account for the war' Europe +70, to keep up with Germany USA +70, for 'harmonisation' But then in US corporate [sound recordings?] works was +95, but EU was +50. EU wants to harmonise now to +95 Mexico wants to go to +100, and Spain wants to match Mexico. Terms increase, never decrease. The radical arguments for terms are: - Radicals = Jack Valenti 'forever minus a day' - The Economist = 14 + 14, exactly as statute of Anne. Don't need to address the radical position. Extending the term for recordings, should it be +50, to +95? Two points. 1. Copyright is about encouragement, incentives, monopolies in exchange or creativity. Should we change terms should be about incentives to produce new creative works? Distinguish between prospective change of terms for a work not yet creative, and the retrospective change of terms for works that exist. For new works, the prospective increases: Is 50 years enough? Look at costs and benefits. How much more valuable is a 95 year stream of income over a 50 year stream of income? The difference between these two streams of income is tiny under any realistic calculation. 1% increase in value of 95 over 50 years. Is the 1% important? It could help... it's plausible. But the 'maybe' is the part that's important. This increase in incentive is so small it's implausible to imagine it would have an impact. Retrospective increases: No numbers to calculate at all. Benefits from the prospective of what copyright is to be about, producing incentives to create new work, the benefits are 0. Incentives are prospective. Anything we do about existing copyright cannot do anything to increase production from the past - Elvis can't create any more work in 1955 than he already has. Increasing terms doesn't increase incentive, but it will make people richer. Maybe the people use this money to make new work, but maybe they'll do up their house in the Bahamas instead. If the focus is on principle, there is no principled reason to extend copyright. But principles won't win. Larry thinks: We will extend copyright terms, despite principle. But there is a simple and obvious point about how that should be done. There is no reason to extend copyright terms indiscriminately and adopt a blanket term. Owners of Laurel and Hardy movies filed a brief saying "We make millions when you extend copyright, but if you don't strike down the act, there is a whole section of film history that will disappear, because the vast majority has no known owner. So no one will invest in restoring the work because someone may come forward and own it. Only when film is in the public domain does anyone invest in restoration. But the films will disintegrate, because the film stock cannot survive until it goes into public domain again." Vast majority of the work that would be affected is commercially unavailable - 98% of work is invisible to the current culture. If copyright is extended, it will remain invisible. 170,000 78s 383,000 vinyl records Are being digitising as they pass into the >public domain, but a tiny proportion has an owner. Shouldn't block access to the 98% for the benefit of the owners of the 2%. Instead, find ways to discriminate. Extend copyright only if it's needed. Proposal: if you want an extend term, then at 50 years file a form and attach

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Comments (4)

  1. The BillBlog:
    Oct 02, 2005 at 12:02 PM

    Extending Copyright Term: RSA Seminar

    An evening with Lessig and friends: Thursday September 29. Also blogged by Suw Charman on the Open Rights Group site

    I spent this evening at the RSA, just off Strand in London, at an event organised jointly by them, the ippr

  2. Robert Higginson:
    Nov 02, 2005 at 12:15 AM

    It's too late at night to read every word, but 2 thoughts.

    A.
    Picking up in middle of discussion, "abuse" - justifies a long-term copyright to prohibit editing in such a way as to vandalise the original work of art. I claim copyright on hymns I have written to prevent alteration, but publish them with a notice giving permission for free non-commercial use in Church. Copyright to keep track of use, not to prevent use.

    B.
    The Queen Ann rule of 14 + 14 years covers someone's legitimate need of an income from their work - "just reward of labour". There is a case for an extension to support their heirs, or provide a pension. A balance of being fair to the worker who creates the piece of art. The extension of the original British 50 years after death to EU 70 years after death adversely affected amateur operatic societies with plans to perform Gilbert and Sullivan. And if the original composer or their immediate family do not benefit, is there any justification for long-term copyright benefiting only a company / publisher / recording studio?

    C.
    Old maps, paintings, etc. which would be long out of copyright, but their owners claim copyright merely because they are the present custodians of the item. Crown perepetual copyright. Etc.

    Can these be justified?

  3. Simon Gibbs:
    Oct 04, 2005 at 08:46 PM

    I think the most valuable point in there for me is the point about teachers not being able to facilitate creativity with the technology they already have. I imagine the same law stops them from creating materials as well, or else it criminalises them for doing so.

    I think it would be very useful to get teachers and educators involved in this debate and for them to provide more real life examples of socal harm in the UK.

  4. P.L.Hayes:
    Oct 07, 2005 at 12:00 PM

    Sadly, software patents were not "defeated" and despite the occasional sign of intelligent life in the legal system (Mr. Peter Prescott QC's recent decision), they may never be. Lessig's probably right to expect that copyright term extension, without any semblance of a rational and reasonable justificaton, will be imposed on us anyway. The same forces are at work, aided once again by the astounding level of ignorance and moral turpitude in our journalists and politicians.



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