Protecting Mickey Mouse at Art’s Expense

Old Blog Import

Lessing offers a cool idea to undo the damage done by this act of Congress:

Still, missing from the opinion was any justification for perhaps the most damaging part of Congress’s decision to extend existing copyrights for 20 years: the extension unnecessarily stifles freedom of expression by preventing the artistic and educational use even of content that no longer has any commercial value. As one dissenter, Justice Steven G. Breyer, estimated, only 2 percent of the work copyrighted between 1923 and 1942 continues to be commercially exploited (for example, the early Mickey Mouse movies, whose eminent entry into the public domain prompted Congress to act in the first place).”

NY Times

Here is a summary of his proposal:

Lessig has proposed a smart and sharp answer to the Supremes’ ruling that Congress can go on extending copyright for as long as they’d like. Since the Court held that only two percent of copyrighted works are still earning revenue, that ruling means that 98 percent of copyrighted material is going to be excluded from the public domain, even though it’s doing no good for anyone in its legal strongbox. So Larry proposes a kind of tax on copyrighted works: after 50 years in copyright, rights-holders would have to pay $1/year to keep their works in copyright. The proposal allows for rights-holders to deduct this $1 from any payments they make to the IRS for earnings on their works — really, this only asks that rights holders whose works are not earning anything for them to pay a nominal sum to indicate that they still wish to hold fast to their copyrights. After three years of nonpayment, it is assumed that the creator is finished earning money from her work and it passes into the public domain. With a simple book-keeping change, this proposal can make the 98 percent of creative works that languish, unpublished, unavailable, even unattributed in many cases, to be given back to our common culture.”