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Glare, Grouchy

[Rant] Copyright

As this has been getting discussed in the discussion groups of both Katherine Kerr and Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb) over the past few weeks, it's been on my mind lately. Today I got a note on a game I help keep running that a couple users were using one of the communication venues in the game to discuss how best to trade around cracked games and whatnot.

Grawwwwrgh.

There are some zealots, I admit, who really do believe that authors should release books for free and copyright shouldn't exist at all, or that all software should be free. Putting aside the question of 'if it's free, you are unlikely to make money on it, and there's no incentive to actually work on it as opposed to getting a different job,' there are other considerations.

Without copyright, for instance, someone could take a book and decide they want to publish their own version of it. They alter it -- cutting scenes, and adding a few they think are better -- and release their own revised edition with the same byline. The author's message is no longer there, and you no longer have any guarantee that you're getting the actual /book/ and not just someone's mutant edited copy.

Add to that the fact that our copyright laws were specifically altered some time ago to adhere to the Berne Convention guidelines, so that our copyright would be enforced and upheld by other countries who are signatories to it.

Really, what it boils down to, I think, is that the majority of people who pirate stuff do it because it's simple (just download something!) and it's free (and people are all about the free stuff). And all the arguments about how it 'doesn't hurt anyone' or how it 'only hurts the publishers' are largely just justifications. And 'I wouldn't have bought it anyway' doesn't really count for anything. If you wouldn't have bought it anyway, that's no excuse for theft. Hey, I wouldn't have bought that DVD player, but that makes it okay to steal it! Bzzt.

If you can convince yourself you're taking a Moral Stand against Big Business or whatever, you don't have to think about the fact that you are stealing from the people who wrote that game you're enjoying so much, that piece of software you use every day, composed and performed those songs you just downloaded in MP3, or wrote that book you just downloaded in eBook format.

The immaturity shows in a number of ways in the pirate community. Witness people who cheerfully accept acclaim and praise for making pirated goods available; the eBook scanners who cheerily accept the acclaim and thanks of the various pirates, acting as if the books were their own work. Hell, think about our Russian hacker friends who have an entire site devoted to Trillian as if it were their work, when all they're doing is distributing pirated copies of Trillian Pro and plugins.

I'm halfway tempted to talk to some of the authors, game developers and so on who I know, and ask them each to write a short essay on copyright and piracy, and collect them into a freely-available eBook to distribute on the net...

Comments

No, no, no!

7 years on books is absolutely ludicrous. I don't want to go into the whole two week discussion from Kit's discussion group here, but consider this. She's been working on this (very long) series of books, the Deverry novels, for well over a decade. You're saying that now, where Kit is still seeing income from those first books while she works on the final two, she shouldn't be.

Copyright expiring is in absolutely no way, no how, something that should happen in the author's lifetime. Period. End of story. Because copyright going away /takes away the author's right to decide what happens with it/. The first Deverry books are out of copyright after seven years? Hey! Snatch 'em up and make a movie... not like you have to pay the author anything! And since it's out of copyright and in the public domain, you can do whatever you want! Make Rhodri and Evander gay lovers! Decide to remove the whole reincarnation aspect, never mind that it's the central theme of the books, redemption over multiple lifetimes! WHO CARES? Not like she can complain, since the copyright expired.

It also means that a publisher can take the book, can edit it in any way they want and republish it as a 'revised edition' without the author's consent, permission or oversight at all. That's what things going out of copyright and into public domain mean.

As for it not lasting past death? What you're saying is, in essence, "Douglas Adams is dead. All his books should be public domain, and his daughter shouldn't see a single penny of any revenue from it because her father's gone." That may not be what your intent is, but it /is/ what killing copyright at the author's death is.

No.

Now, I do think that /corporate/ copyright law needs some rethinking. And I agree you could probably lessen the 70 year duration after the author's death in general. But if I work hard to create a book or a piece of artwork or something, then as long as I'm alive it should be /my choice/ whether or not I release it into the public domain. I have yet to see anyone justify why the creator should not have control over their work within their lifetime. If the creator chooses to release it into public domain, that's wonderful. But that should be their /choice/.

Now, here's the other part people often forget, too: the reason US copyright law has the specific durations it does was to adhere to the Berne convention. If we don't honor the internationally standardized copyright laws and durations, then other Berne signatory nations do not honor our copyrights.
You are correct when the copyright owner is a human being. I retract my statement regarding 7 years - I believe I misquoted when I said that was for both copyrights and patents. I believe it is just patents now (ie: Tylenol), and it mostly applies to medical companies. (And I believe that is correct and the way it should be.)

That said:

As for it not lasting past death? What you're saying is, in essence, "Douglas Adams is dead. All his books should be public domain, and his daughter shouldn't see a single penny of any revenue from it because her father's gone." That may not be what your intent is, but it /is/ what killing copyright at the author's death is.

Yes, I am saying that. What's the problem with that? Should the estate of the author forever own the copyright? Why should the /children/ of the author receive benefits or revenue from the creative works of their parents? If they did not contribute to it, why should they receive benefits?

With regard to the Berne convention, the US laws exceed the times granted within the convention (which is lifetime + 50 years). Our current copyright scheme is lifetime + 75.

Having said all that:

Now, I do think that /corporate/ copyright law needs some rethinking.

This was primarily what I had /intended/ to point out as the problem when I started my original post. ;) With many of the creative works done now, they are done as works-for-hire, meaning the 'author/owner' is a corporation. As the corporation has no finite lifetime, should the work never pass into public domain?