8/24/2010

My view of copyright

The Article I of the United States Constitution provides that Congress shall have the power, "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

photo of jennifer aniston
Copyright was intended to provide just compensation to authors and their families by giving temporary Federal protection to the exclusive use of their writings. Things get a little screwy when giant international corporations get involved in protecting and extending their intellectual property assets.  Things get a little screwy and nasty when a cartoon mouse is worth more than Jennifer Aniston, for example.

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon to be released by Walt Disney was a silent short titled Plane Crazy in 1928. When the mere passage of time looked to be a threat to Disney Corporation's exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse, and the Federal copyright protection that gave the cartoon character asset value might expire, Congress was prevailed upon to extend the length of copyright protection.

It was called the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act.

I didn't believe it the first time I heard the name. I thought it was a joke. Then there was the fact Walt Disney, the originator of the mouse character, had died in 1966 and he wasn't looking to the Federal government for protection anymore.

The German economic historian Eckhard Höffner has argued that weak copyright laws in Germany during the 19th century helped them outpace the British Empire in economic development by facilitating the cheap and easy spread of technical and educational materials.
"With stronger copyright guarantees guarding their backs, London publishers profited from the release of limited edition books. But the nation as a whole suffered." - Wired
Although the digital age has been troublesome for traditional media and publishing companies, see Seth Godin's Moving On, it may be good for the rest of us, and help us improve our constitutional balance.