« Mike to play guitar in Kansas CityBack in town »

Free Culture and the constitution

05/15/04 | by [mail] | Categories: miscellaneous

Jack Valenti, longtime president of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) said this in 1982 in a testimony to congress: "Creative property owners must be accorded the same rights and protection resident in all other property owners in the nation." Valenti and the MPAA aggressively lobby our government for stronger copyright laws, and this is his basic reason. It sounds logical enough, but it goes against a long legal tradition regarding 'creative property.'

Article I, section 8, clause 8, of the Constitution says, "Congress has 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." This clause does provide for protections on creative property for the purpose of promoting progress. Why would someone work hard to create a new idea if it could be easily stolen? But this clause does make an important distinction; it says that exclusive rights should only be secured for a limited time. This contradicts Valenti's claim that physical property and creative property should be given the same legal protections.

I'm learning a lot about copyright law from Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. I first saw Lessig on The Screen Savers, and I went to his website where the book is available for free in several formats (I went for audio and MS Reader).

The problem with current copyright laws, according to Lessig, is not that they give protection to creators, but that those protections have grown beyond what was intended by the framers and what is healthy for our culture. Take the limited time mentioned in the above quote from the Constitution. The original length of a copyright was 14 years. It could renewed, if the author was still alive, for another 14 years. That would cover the commercial life of just about any creation, allowing the author to make money, but sending the creation into the public domain while it's still relevant. Today the copyright term is 95 years. The only ones who benefit from such a long term are the corporations who hold the copyrights. No artist is still alive and hoping to profit from his creation after 95 years. This extended term also means that the public domain is starving.

I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know what Lessig suggests as a solution, but it's been interesting to learn how copyright law has changed over the years. And, sadly, those changes protect corporations and make it harder for individuals to be creative without fear of litigation.



sounds quite interesting.

Henry [Visitor]http://honzo.brendoman.com05/16/04 @ 01:28

Special thanks to our friends at Disney.

I’m still curious as to how they justify pushing copyright extensions to keep their work out of the public domain, yet make movies like “Treasure Planet” and the upcoming “Chicken Little".

Ah, that’s right. The almighty dollar.

The scary thing about Valenti (on the way out at least!) and his ilk is that they spin the same tale they did about the VCR in the 80’s. Their dire predictions about technology destroying the business didn’t pan out, so why should we let them make this claim freely again. From the same testimony you referenced from Valenti:

“Now, these machines are advertised for one purpose in life. Their only single mission, their primary mission is to copy coyrighted material that belongs to other people.”

Sounds like how the boys spin p2p and dvd backups software these days, huh? And how many fronts was he proved wrong on this statement?

And here’s another gem. When asked if his family engaged in copyright infringement when recording tv to vcr for personal use, he replied:

“They show an astonishing lack of the copyright law. They know good and well that that is not a criminal infringement unless you do it for profit.”

Now, jive that with recent state of MPAA exec vp fritz attaway, speaking in regards to DVD backup/ripping software:

“There is no right in the copyright law to make backup copies of motion pictures, so the whole argument that people should have the right to make backup copies of DVDs has no legal support whatsoever,”

Fritz of course goes on to point out that""It’s against consumers’ interest to permit devices that make backup copies". Slight change? I could go on, but I’m preaching to the choir. These guys must be stopped.

Oh and one last thing, why is it that public enemy number for the movie studios are traders, as if they are the main drain of money from the industry. I think that’s rather questionable, given Jack’s own speech in which he covered the problem of flat ticket revenues in 2003 vs. 2002, but claimed it was the rising production costs which were eating them alive, calling them a “tapeworm nibbling and chewing at the fiscal molecules of our business.”

Now I’m really done!

Brendon [Visitor]http://www.techfreak.net05/16/04 @ 02:22

This is funny. Just yesterday, I read the following satirical piece by Mark Twain.

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress Assembled:

Whereas, The Constitution guarantees equal rights to all, backed by the Declaration of Independence; and

Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in real estate is perpetual; and

Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in the literary result of a citizen’s intellectual labor is restricted to forty-two years; and

Whereas, Forty-two years seems an exceedingly just and righteous term, and a sufficiently long one for the retention of property;

Therefore, Your petitioner, having the good of his country solely at heart, humbly prays that “equal rights” and fair and equal treatment may be meted out to all citizens, by the restriction of rights in all property, real estate included, to the beneficent term of forty-two years. Then shall all men bless your honorable body and be happy. And for this will your petitioner ever pray.

Mark Twain.

I have no point in quoting Mark Twain here, except that I think it is interesting that he was concerned with the same issue in 1875 that we are trying to resolve now. That is all.

Kyle [Visitor]05/16/04 @ 17:10

Twain’s essay is funny because it seems like we should treat physical property and creative properly the same way. That’s the simple-sounding argument that the lobbyists make, but I’m beginning to be convinced that the two types of property are different. Perpetual copyrights don’t benefit creators, they only benefit the huge companies that end up owning them. The English Parliment limited copyrights to break up monopolies hundreds of years ago, and that’s why we need to do the same today.

danny [Visitor]http://danny.brendoman.com05/16/04 @ 17:40

I think you’re right, Danny. Perpetual intellectual property rights mostly benefit corporations, long after their creators are dead. Perhaps the law should state that a copyright on intellectual property stands only so long as the creator(s) is/are living. After all the creators have died, the piece of intellectual property passes into the public sector. Yet this doesn’t seem quite right to me either: I picture companies waiting like vultures for someone like Bill Watterson (who, for integrity’s sake, has never allowed merchandise from Calving and Hobbes to be marketed) to finally kick the bucket, so that they can legally fill stores with little Calvin and Hobbes dolls. This is a tough issue.

Kyle [Visitor]05/18/04 @ 11:15

I picture companies not only eagerly waiting for a creator to die, but possibly hiring some thugs to see it done. Current copyright terms for not-for-hire creations are actually tied to the life-span of the author: these copyrights endure for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Danny [Visitor]http://danny.brendoman.com05/18/04 @ 13:46

Form is loading...