Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Nice quote from Paul Goldstein's Copyright's Highway: From Guttenberg to the Celestial Jukebox (1994) - he says copyright's goal is to give "the public the widest variety of literary and artistic works at the lowest possible price."  (p228) On p224: "The capacity for the celestial jukebox to post a charge for access, and to shut off service if a subscriber does not pay his bills, should substantially reduce the specter of transaction costs.  As these costs dissolve, so, too, should the perceived need for safety valves like fair use. Indeed the economic logic of the celestial jukebox....might produce a law that contains no exemptions from liability at all.... as suppliers oblige their subscribers contractually to pay for now exempted uses of copyrighted material..... One problem with this logic is that the celestial jukebox will not entirely replace traditional copyright markets... Also, some of the 1976 Act's exemptions are there, not because of transaction costs, but because certain uses and users serve socially valuable ends.  The statuatory exemption for classroom performances  of copyrighted works in nonprofit educational institutions is one example.  If copyright owners try to circumvent these copyright exemptions by contract - and there is every reason to expect they will - Congress will have to reconsider the distributional aspects of its copyright agenda and decide whether to outlaw such contracts...."
Goldstein would firmly reject Larry Lessig's notions about copyright extension being unnecessary. He is of the opinion that technological development eroded copyright revenues because eg. people got used to using the VCR without paying for copies because Congress did not act quickly enough to deal with it.  And once people are used to getting something for "free" they will not want to pay for it and Congress is unlikely to make them.  So he says hand out the copyright scope extensions to prevent damage to copyright holders, then assess later the effect.  Lessig on the other hand would say avoid handing out monoplies until the real effect of the technological development can be evaluated.  After all, Jack Valenti was against VCRs and now videos provide huge revenues for the movie industry.
Goldstein's book is terrific.
Goldstein concludes the book on p236: ".. and true to copyright's historic logic that the best prescription for connecting authors to their audiences is to extend rights into every corner where consumers derive value from literary and artistic works.  If history is any measure, the result should be to promote political as well as cultural diversity, ensuring a plenitude of voices, with all the chance to be heard." Hmmm.
Peter Drahos would probably join Lessig, Jamie Boyle, Pamela Samuelson and others in disputing that perspective. I seem to remember Drahos saying that when it comes to intellectual property, "the language of property rights should be replaced by the language of privileges." He also suggested that the holders of "intellectual property privileges" should be subject to such duties as "would maximise the probably that the purpose for which the privilege was first created is achieved."
Pamela Samuelson has produced her usual sound analysis of copyright law to bear in her assessment of the wake of the Eldred v Ashcroft Supreme Court decision.
The Eurpoean Parliament's committee on legal affairs and the internal market has reportedly criticised the proposed directive on harmonising the enforcement of intellectual property rights as not going far enough to protect the movies and music industries.

Meanwhile, Oracle is suing Quest for copyright infringement, in relation to its database software and Disney have come up with a plan to rent self destructing DVDs. These stories can get really entertaining don't you think?

Monday, May 19, 2003

There's a fair bit of speculation about the possible retirement of US Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist this coming summer.

John Naughton writes about the IHT's aquisition of Microsoft memos outling their approach to competing with Linux - if Linux is a serious competitor then give the MS software away.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Larry Lessig wants copyright owners to pay $1 to renew copyright after fifty years.
"The idea is a simple one: Fifty years after a work has been published, the copyright owner must pay a
$1 maintanence fee. If the copyright owner pays the fee, then the copyright continues. If the owner
fails to pay the fee, the work passes into the public domain. Based on historical precedent, we expect
98% of copyrighted works would pass into the public domain after just 50 years. They could keep
Mickey for as long as Congress lets them. But we would get a public domain........
Yet the lobbyists are fighting even this tiny compromise. The public domain is competition for them.
They will fight this competition. And so long as they have the lobbyists, and the rest of the world
remains silent, they will win.

We need to your help to resist this now. At this stage, all that we need is one congressperson to
introduce the proposal. Whether you call it the Copyright Term Deregulation Act, or the Public
Domain Enhancement Act, doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a sponsor, so we can begin to
show the world just how extreme this debate has become: They have already gotten a 20 year
extension of all copyrights just so 2% can benefit; and now they object to paying just $1 for that
benefit, so that no one else might compete with them."