What’s Wrong with Copyright?

The Constitution gives Congress authority over copyrights and patents — what we nowadays call intellectual property — with the usual spare language of the founders:

The Congress shall have 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.
United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8

Couple of key things, here.

First off, the whole purpose of these protections are to promote progress in science and “useful arts” (no protection for any non-useful arts, eh? Looks like Family Guy is fair game).

Secondly, any protection afforded is for a limited time.

How limited? Inventors get patent protection for anywhere from 14 to 20 years, depending on the type of patent. So how come inventors get a decade or two, and writers, musicians and other ‘creative’ types get a century or more?

Actually a copyright holder gets life plus seventy years! If you reproduce this paragraph without my permission anytime while I’m alive, I can sue your whoozitz off. Once I kick the bucket, my heirs can still sue you and your whoozitz for another 70 years. If I live another 80 years, then this here paragraph is protected a grand total of 150 years, and you can feel free to begin reproducing it anytime after May 25, 2156.

Does 150 years of absolute control over my paragraphs really do anything to promote the progress of the useful arts?

Do artists really need a century more protection than inventors?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding No. But even if you disagree — even if you feel that copyright protection should be longer and stronger than it is — it’s still hard to avoid the conclusion that copyright is profoundly dysfunctional in its current form.

The two key problems with copyright are these…

next up…the two problems

david sarokin aka pafalafaga

One Response to “What’s Wrong with Copyright?”

  1. eiffel says:

    Heh, I never though about the “non-useful arts” aspect. That could cover a lot of stuff!