Draft Policy: Term of Copyright

The Massachusetts Pirate Party is debating the term of copyright in order to form a policy on it. The “term” of copyright refers to the length of time for which a copyright is in effect. Currently it can get up as high as centuries, and is tending towards infinity. We think it is spiraling out of control, and we want to limit the term of copyright. But for exactly how long? One proposal is 14 years, and another is 5 years. A compromise proposal would split the difference between these two ideas. Please weigh in with your opinions by leaving a comment. The Pirate Party already has a great policy about fair use, public domain and other aspects of copyright. This debate should be limited in scope to simply the length of time.

The Statute of Anne is regarded as the first copyright statute in Great Britain. In the years after the invention of the printing press, bibles and official documents were printed. Dissent was also printed, and there were disputes that content had been stolen from the original author. So a copyright law was developed. The original author had the sole right to publish the book for 14 years. (Old books were grandfathered in with 21 years.) It could be extended for 14 more years, but only by the original author, and only if they were alive at the end of the first copyright term. (Incidentally, the author was understood to be an individual rather than a corporation.) Although this was created in England under Queen Anne, a similar statute was later adopted in the U.S. after independence.

The Swedish Pirate Party has called for a five year term of copyright. This is understandable because the world has sped up a lot with the Internet and electronic media. Most media don’t require a printing press or a centralized office to create them any more. A YouTube video from five years ago now seems like ancient history. If fourteen years was an appropriate length of copyright in the 1700s, then why not 5 years in the 21st century?

A possible compromise position might be to adopt a 14 year term of copyright for physical media such as a printed book, a DVD or a game cartridge. But a 5 year term of copyright for purely electronic media such as downloads and streaming media. The rationale is that the production costs are greater for traditional physical media, and the audience is slower. Some media producers might want to avoid online media to get a longer term of copyright, but this would put them at a serious competitive disadvantage. Under this compromise proposal, a movie like Avatar would be protected for five years from both online and physical use. After five years, it would be protected from only physical use. Anyone could download it or share it freely on the Internet, and you could even charge money for it. However you couldn’t sell a DVD or make a printed book about it until the 14 year term had expired.

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7 comments on “Draft Policy: Term of Copyright

  1. I agree with the 5 year model, except I don’t think it is right for anyone to sell someone else’s copyrighted work for profit for themselves.

    if i could sell avatar 5 years from now online for my own profit, i think that defies the who copyright issue. if i spent 7 years making a movie from writing to release, i wouldn’t want someone to be able to make money off it so quick. Plus The industry will never go for it.

    I think as far as selling a prior copyrighted work, that timeline should be specific for the selling part maybe 10 years? Or we could adapt something like the ASCAP and i believe there is a website i saw that you can pay to do a cover of someones song say $47 to be able to put it on 500 cds or something. We should adapt to something like that model to allow for people to sell or allow streaming of movies online? maybe even quicker than 5 years perhaps scailing fees from the actual release date in the theater to 6 months and beyond.

    the point to make here is that, in this day and age by distributing copyrighted work, i can see it helping more than hurting. the internet has created more ways for independents to reach a far more broader audience then before, and there has been a number of times that people have increased the popularity of something by distributing it online.

    Also because of the technology available today it is virtually impossible to stop everyone from violating copyright laws. It’s important the next time these laws are written that it be right and also plan for the future, whatever technology that holds as well. The industry needs to adapt to it and Itunes is a perfect example

  2. I should mention that under current copyright law, once the term of copyright expires it goes into the public domain. This means anyone is free to reproduce, alter or sell it. For example, anyone can print and sell a Mark Twain book. But you can also download the text, or adapt it for a play. You can freely quote from it, or write a new story about one of Twain’s characters.

    Rights holders don’t like this, so they have lobbied congress to extend the term of copyright again and again. This has effectively eliminated the concept that anything new will ever go into the public domain. Their individual gain has been a tremendous loss for society as a whole, and it really hurts the economy.

    The idea to have a time period when the copyright has expired but no one else can profit from the work is interesting. Let’s suppose I make a video and there is a five year copyright term. For the first five years, there would be a lot of restrictions on what anyone but me can do with my video. After five years, there might be another five year period where anyone can share my video, create derivative works, whatever they like. But they can’t sell it. Only I could sell it. Then after 10 years, it’s fair game.

    If that’s what you’re proposing then I think it’s interesting, and I would support it.

  3. I like what Erik said in the last post but would like to kind of put my own twist on it. Instead of having the two 5 year periods, make it into one ten year period, now here me out on this for a second, during the first 10 years people can share and do what they want with my video (just using the video example Erik used) for example create derivative works etc., as long as they give me proper credit for my work and the use is strictly non-commercial. The video may not be sold, or used for any commercial purpose except by the original author and/or copyright holder for this 10 year period. Then after the ten year period has passed, the video enters the public domain, and may be used by anyone for any purpose (non-commercial or commercial)

  4. I think your text should make more of a reference to the founding fathers and their reasons for putting copyright and patents in the constitution. Here is a bit of text that I wrote to help explain our policy on patents and copyright that you might want to add:

    Additionally, we want the reform of patent and copyright laws. Our founders allowed individuals to have monopolies over their creations or innovations for a very limited duration through the copyright and patent laws. Their belief was that by doing so it would encourage people to create works of literature and new innovations. Once those monopolies expired the creations and innovations would be available to everyone to use and improve upon. However, Congress has expanded the duration of those monopolies (life of the author + 90 years in the case of copyright), and allowed individuals and corporations to lock down large parts of our culture for over a hundred years.

    • That’s good stuff. I don’t want to get into a detailed examination of the policy, but your comments are directly related to the term of copyright itself. I agree that this should be part of the text.

  5. This proposal was adopted at our 1/2/2011 IRC meeting. Specifically, the 5 year copyright for electronic media and 14 year copyright for tangible media.

  6. In fairness, there are a number of corporations that rely almost exclusively on there copyrights. Disney comes to mind because of the following article: . I can understand why they lobby like hell to extent the terms.

    Still, 14 year seems more than reasonable to me. After that, I think you could argue that restricting public use limits the freedom of ideas and there exchange as these copyrighted works enter the public subconsciousness.

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