Coming Attractions: The Copyright Extension Act of 2018

November 3rd, 2005 · 6 Comments
by Booksquare

Our issue with copyright extensions has always been the lack of quid pro quo: the public protects your right to exploit and profit from your work through laws and enforcement. In return for this service, you, the artist, give back to the public by allowing your work to enter the public domain after a reasonable period of time. The definition of reasonable is quite elastic, and as we’ve seen in recent years, subject to expansion to meet corporate needs.

So the public is all quid pro while copyright holders aren’t doing the quo.

The Eldred decision is a good example. Until 1909, an author could receive copyright protection for no more than 56 years, after which the work would fall into the public domain. But thanks to industry lobbying, Congress extended the terms in 1976, and again in 1998. As a result, no copyrights have fallen into the public domain since the 1970s unless their owners chose not to renew them. There’s every reason to think Congress will grant another extension around 2018, when the current terms begin to expire. Despite the Constitutional requirement that copyrights be “for limited times,” Congress has effectively made them perpetual, one extension at a time.

We like to call this the Disney extension because if it weren’t Mickey Mouse, copyright terms likely would have been extended, but only to reasonable limits. As it’s getting late, we will now sit back and wonder what Hollywood and the publishing industry would do if Jane Austen had been allowed to extend her copyright indefinitely.

File Under: Our Continuing Fascination With Copyright

6 responses so far ↓

  • Bob // Nov 3, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    I wonder how much of an investment and how much joy children would have missed over the years had Disney not been able to protect its investment in the fruits of their labors. For instance, if they had lost that protection, would we now have porn Mickey Mouses gracing our cable TV screens?

    I guess there is no easy answer.

  • Booksquare // Nov 5, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    Of course, one could also wonder how much joy children would have missed had Disney not been in a position to take advantage of the public domain. No Cinderella, Snow White, etc. I get a little frustrated by the notion that society has an obligation to protect corporate property while corporations don’t feel the same obligation to give back to society — that was the basis for copyright protection in the first place. I’m all for making money and free trade, but the system should be fair for all.

    As for the porn Mickey, well, Disney (I’m sure) has trademarked the image. And it’s possible to make the argument that some porn would fall under the aegis of satire or other protected uses of copyrighted material. Such things are novelties at best and probably wouldn’t be shown on easily accessible cable.

  • Candy // Nov 8, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    Austen, schmausten. Imagine if SHAKESPEARE had had his works copyrighted and extended the copyrights indefinitely.

    And I’d be amazed to see ANY kind of porn grace American cable, much less something as deviant as Mickey Mouse porn.

    I’ll also argue that the time of the mouse as an entertainment figure as opposed to a corporate logo is long past–many of those Disney shorts are masterpieces, but Disney hasn’t created any good shorts featuring Mickey and co. in decades. The best of Disney’s current work has nothing to do with the mouse.

  • Booksquare // Nov 8, 2005 at 10:10 pm

    Shakespeare? Famous author then? Not familiar with the name. Will do research when I’m feeling less lazy. That will probably be about the time Mickey Mouse enters the public domain.

    Your point is, as always, well taken, though there is porn on American cable. It’s subtle — no overt genitalia — but it exists. I think Mickey lives in the rental market along with Snow White.

    Later, I’ll share stories about temping at the Mouse House. I read (or tried to read) Gravity’s Rainbow. First time it struck me that a person can be paid to read. I still wonder what department had me warming a seat.

  • Christine // Nov 10, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Well….maybe everyone could get busy and create their own creative writings and drawings instead of stealing from the families of the people who did take the time.

    When the copyright ends for a piece of work – a huge corporation will sweep in, take it, recreate it and then trademark it – and guess what general public – you still don’t get to use it for free.

    Get busy, and add to the creative world instead of just sitting around and waiting.

  • Carl Ratner // Nov 23, 2013 at 1:54 am

    Christine, I think your admonition to create your own works should also apply to the distant descendants of authors of works created nearly a century ago. And despite the fact that huge corporations sweep in, you most certainly do get to use the original work for free. For instance the mega hit Phantom of the Opera did not keep Maury Yeston from writing his own version five years later which has received over 1000 productions. If you want to create a musical version of Phantom yourself, there is nothing stopping you. I will keep my fingers crossed that the US will not re-extend in 1918. I wish I knew what I could do to help that effort. Perhaps there will be some sort of push-back at that time.