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Old 05-31-2008, 09:48 AM   #1
Ralph Sir Edward
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Notes on a more rational copyright system

After some discussions last night (on another thread with Ms. Zelda_Pinwheel), my pea brain came up with a different slant on how copyright should be organized. It's guaranteed to annoy everybody involved, so please save you brickbats until I'm finished.

There are two great annoyances of current copyright law (US or the various flavors of Berne). First, the tendency of big corporations to lobby (that's the polite term) to get extensions to the copyright length so they can treat their intellectual property as a perpetual (real) property, rather than as a wasting asset. Second, what to do about "Orphan" copyrights. ("Orphan" copyrights being I.P. that are under copyright, but there is no way to track down the copyright holders.) Could these be fairly fixed, within the conceptual structure of copyright? I think so.

Copyright law has a twin, called patent law (which handles inventions). It started out very similar to copyright law, but the vast changes to copyright law (from the above first reason) has made it very different. Among the major differences, patent is limited to 20 years total (no extensions), and even during the 20 years, the holder must pay fees on a pre-defined, rising schedule to the patent office in order to maintain the validity of the patent.

My idea is to graft the fee structure of the patent system into the copyright system. Grant the initial copyright period of 20 years at the modest fee of today. After the initial 20 years are up, you must pay an addition fee every 3-5 years to maintain the copyright. If you don't pay, it goes into public domain. The fee is <not> fixed, but rises with every renewal period. Once the original copyright owner dies, the fees (and fee increases) go up 10 fold. (Dead people don't create, which is the purpose of copyright in the first place.) If a copyright is owned by a corporation, the fee scale is <much> higher, and rises with every renewal. If a corporation declares bankruptcy, either chapter 7 <or> 11, all copyrights revert to the public domain.

But here's the sweetener. As long as you keep pay the rising schedule, you can keep the copyright. No length cap. But the schedule keep rising to the point where cost of maintaining the copyright stops being economical.

There are no "Orphan" works in this system. Either somebody pays the fee, or the work is in public domain in 3-5 years (after the first 20 years). If you want to contact the copyright holder (say to reprint something), the copyright office has a contact point not more than 3-5 year out of date.

"But this is forcing taxes on creativity!" D__n right! Inventors have been paying it for 200 years, most real property have been paying it for even longer. What makes copyright so special .

"But I want to maintain my copyright, but my works aren't selling!" Shrug. Nothing is stopping you from paying the fee schedule, and maintaining your copyright. You just don't get it free anymore. Your choice. (People lose house for not paying property taxes.)

Copyright become a profit center for goverments, giving them more tax money to spend. (This keeps them interested in keeping those fees up, just like tobacco taxes in the US. Heh, heh, heh)



So ladies, fish, and gentlemen, start your comments.....

Last edited by Ralph Sir Edward; 05-31-2008 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 05-31-2008, 11:07 AM   #2
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Old 05-31-2008, 02:27 PM   #3
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On first read, I can't find anything to criticize. I'm eager to hear what others have to say.
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Old 06-02-2008, 07:53 AM   #4
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i'm surprised this thread hasn't gotten more attention.

your plan sounds quite reasonable to me, and i think the most unusual and interesting detail is that for once it seems to redistribute the balance of power and privilege rather more fairly between the copyright holders and the public. the attitude towards copyright by its holders seems to have evolved towards an idea that copyright is some sort of due, that they are entitled to, or a natural law, whereas it never was intended to be that ; it is a privilege, and was always intended to be a *temporary* privilege.

i would be a bit hesitant to allow a copyright to be maintained indefinitely (no limit) as long as the fees are paid, but then i suppose if the fees really do increase exponentially few authors would find this worth their while (i imagine Disney would pay millions to prevent that stupid rat from falling into the PD, i they can no longer bully the government into protecting it for them, but how many people have the financial ressources of disney ?) ; the danger of course is that just as lobbyists have managed to change the copyright law to benefit from it for longer and longer periods until now copyright is (practically speaking) almost eternal, under this system they would lobby to reduce the fees progressively, allowing them more and more control (again) for longer and longer periods and less and less money.

i listened to a speech given by the head of Sweden's PiratParti (yeah yeah yeah, calm down all you others) which was linked to in one of the neverending copyright / pirating threads around here. based on the comments in the thread, i'm pretty sure i was the only person besides the original poster to have done so, but he had some very very interesting things to say about the effects of copyright protection legislation on personal privacy, among other things, and i wish *everyone* would listen to his speech with an open mind. it's not about "despoiling artists simply because now with digital technology we easily can, and we're too cheap to pay for the media we want so we steal it" as is so often claimed. he advocated a return to the original spirit of copyright, so a fixed period of 7 or 14 years or so (i can't quite remember the details) from the date of publication, after which the work falls into the public domain, no extensions, no discussion.

i think some sort of compromise between your system and his system could be a really good system. "orphaned" works would no longer be a problem at all (that's a point of great irritation for me personally, since i've just been confronted with one), the public domain (and therefore our collective culture, which benefits EVERYONE) would be significantly and incessantly enriched, and the money collected as copyright fees could be used to subsidize more culture ; everyone wins.

i don't know who you should present this idea to (some governmental agency), but you should definitely present it to *someone*. maybe you could send a little email to the Swedish Pirat Party

EDIT : someone give this man some karma. i just tried to, but apparently i "have given out too much karma in the last 24 hours" and i'm all out.
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Old 06-02-2008, 08:37 AM   #5
Ralph Sir Edward
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Thank you for your kind words, Zelda. I didn't mean for my post to be a end-all for reconsidering the copyright debate, but just trying to reshape the terms it was being debated on. If anybody wants to pass along my post, consider it Public Domain (Pro Bono Publico), as far as I (the original author) am concerned. (Pardon me, but in the US, I'm a little paranoid passing it along myself...)

As far as lobbying for price breaks go, <shrug>, lobbyists are continually extending the copyright length anyway, so i'm not certain what we'd lose in the new idea anyway. All I know is the only thing politicans love after election votes, is money to buy more votes with. We Texans like to have our corruption out in the open, so we can know which candidate to buy......

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Old 06-02-2008, 08:54 AM   #6
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As a consumer, rather than a creator, I'm in favour of any proposal to sort out the current, discredited, copyright system; and the suggestions Ralph makes are valuable additions to the debate.

I just wonder though, what's in it for the creator?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Sir Edward View Post
...But here's the sweetener. As long as you keep pay the rising schedule, you can keep the copyright.
Making them pay for what they currently get for free doesn't seem much of a sweetener - maybe give the author the first five years free .

The proposals address the consumer's biggest bugbear, imho, which is that copyright is ridiculously restrictive (death + 70 !!).
But the creator's biggest bugbear - copyright enforcement - isn't really addressed. How would these proposals affect piracy? And if they don't, what's in them for the creators?

I would say though, that the present stupid arrangements virtually justify piracy - replacing them with something sensible (e.g. Ralph's ideas) would help reinstate respect for copyright, thereby negating many peoples' justifications for flouting it.
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Old 06-02-2008, 10:22 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sparrow View Post
As a consumer, rather than a creator, I'm in favour of any proposal to sort out the current, discredited, copyright system; and the suggestions Ralph makes are valuable additions to the debate.

I just wonder though, what's in it for the creator?

Making them pay for what they currently get for free doesn't seem much of a sweetener - maybe give the author the first five years free .

The proposals address the consumer's biggest bugbear, imho, which is that copyright is ridiculously restrictive (death + 70 !!).
But the creator's biggest bugbear - copyright enforcement - isn't really addressed. How would these proposals affect piracy? And if they don't, what's in them for the creators?

I would say though, that the present stupid arrangements virtually justify piracy - replacing them with something sensible (e.g. Ralph's ideas) would help reinstate respect for copyright, thereby negating many peoples' justifications for flouting it.
Sensible ideas, they may be; However I doubt that anything would negate, in certain individuals, the justification for attempting to flout copyright terms.
Even if the cost was as little as 1 penny/cent/centime/1billion zimbabwean dollar, there will always be someone determined to circumvent the paying.
For some there appears to be the perception that if they can beat the system they will.
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Old 06-02-2008, 10:29 AM   #8
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Quote:
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Sensible ideas, they may be; However I doubt that anything would negate, in certain individuals, the justification for attempting to flout copyright terms.
Even if the cost was as little as 1 penny/cent/centime/1billion zimbabwean dollar, there will always be someone determined to circumvent the paying.
For some there appears to be the perception that if they can beat the system they will.
So what? The goal of the system is not to eliminate people not paying.
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Old 06-02-2008, 10:34 AM   #9
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So what? The goal of the system is not to eliminate people not paying.
Wow, a double negative...
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Old 06-02-2008, 02:22 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Sir Edward View Post
After some discussions last night (on another thread with Ms. Zelda_Pinwheel), my pea brain came up with a different slant on how copyright should be organized. It's guaranteed to annoy everybody involved, so please save you brickbats until I'm finished.

So ladies, fish, and gentlemen, start your comments.....
Sorry Ralph, but I don't think this proposal will work, at least, not in the US. There are several reasons:

1. It's based on the assumption that the Copyright Office can be contacted and will have a record of who owns a copyright. But laws based on any sort of assumption just don't work. There can be no room for assumptions. Maybe if your law required the copyright holder to input and maintain their own copyright for it to be valid. It seems to me best if the record of copyrights are kept public through an on-line database, then you could avoid this. But if you leave it to the Government to input and maintain that database, the record will be out-of-date as soon as the interests deem it safe.

2. In the US it's a violation of Federal law for the Government to make a profit and has been since the 1940s. At that time some "lefty" Democrats wanted the Government to invest part of the Social Security Trust in stocks and bonds rather than entirely in the special US Government bonds--claiming the system of buying bonds taxes the people twice for the same thing: first when they pay the Soc Sec tax, then again when people retire and the Government has to pay off the principle and interest on those Government bonds. Wall Street didn't like the proposal and tied it to a Red Scare. Anyway, no plan involving profit by the US Government will fly: completely taboo.

3. When companies go bankrupt, the copyrights they hold may be the only thing of value left. Creditors won't like that part of your proposal at all and government is on thin ice trying to take control of this type of property. (The government can seize real estate because all you actually own when you buy land is a reversible free-hold to use it: all the nation's land belongs to the sovereign and governments can't divest themselves of sovereignty, but that only applies to the nation's land. The Government has no such power with other forms of property.)

You could use the copyright charges against the cost to maintain the database, tying maintenance charges against actual costs of hardware and bandwidth, and maybe the labor to manage it, but safer if the law put unclaimed copyrights in the public domain. That way you encourage copyright claimants to be sure the enterprise stays funded.

I like your spirit though!
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Old 06-02-2008, 10:14 PM   #11
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In response to the points raised.

1. The taxes would be initially used to set up a database of copyrights and keep it up (no argument about funding - it's self funding).

2. This depends on the meaning of profit. The IRS is the biggest "profit" producing part of the government. If the excess funds are placed in the general fund, it's not a "profit" producing part of the government.

3. The point to remember about copyright, it is a limited, wasting, asset. It does not have to follow the same rules of real property. There's separate definition in the constitution.

Finally, extra funds from the copyrights could be used for copyright enforcement.
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Old 06-02-2008, 10:33 PM   #12
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Copyrights aren't only granted to profitable works. Copyrights are granted to poets and other artists who cannot possibly make a living on their works. I consider myself a "successful" poet. My work is regularly published. I've even "broke into" the textbook business, with repeat business from McGraw-Hill for textbook articles, poems, poster series, and so on.

Net total (I say "net" since it's impossible to calculate my "costs" and thus profit) probably less than US$3500. That includes "prizes".

My copyrights on those works allow me to be selective in how it is presented.

And you want me to PAY for my copyrights?
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Old 06-03-2008, 03:14 PM   #13
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Do you formally register your works with the copyright office? The last time I did (2002), it cost me $60. So you are paying anyway. My point is that if the commercial world wants to treat copyright as a property then the public needs a way to force the wasting feature onto the commercial world. And the commercial world only understands money.
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Old 06-06-2008, 05:42 PM   #14
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This would require registering and paying for every copyright that you want to lay claim to. A large percentage of copyrights are not registered I am sure. The cost to maintain this would be tremendous. While it sounds good in theory I just don't think it is practical.

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Old 06-06-2008, 08:53 PM   #15
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But until the 1976 US Berne agreement, you did have to formally register your copyright with the copyright office. In the 19th century (US), you actually had to publish the item for the copyright to be accepted as valid.


Every other form of I.P requires proper registration, every piece of real property requires formal registration, and there seems to be no problem handling the ownership of said properties. Once again, I ask, what makes copyright so special. . .
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