A reasonable analysis of the current copyright mess (updated)

Well, that was a disappointment. It was retracted nearly as quickly as it burst onto the scenes. Crud.

A reasoned, level-headed analysis of the problems that current copyright law creates rocked Slashdot yesterday. The amazing thing is, this thing came from Washington.

Here’s the highlight reel:

[T]he overriding purpose of the copyright system is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” In today’s terminology we may say that the purpose is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.

This is a major distinction, because most legislative discussions on this topic, particularly during the extension of the copyright term, are not premised upon what is in the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation, but rather what the content creators “deserve” or are “entitled to” by virtue of their creation. This lexicon is appropriate in the realm of taxation and sometimes in the realm of trade protection, but it is inappropriate in the realm of patents and copyrights.


[M]assive damages are not conventional tort law damages, but damages that are vastly disproportionate from the actual damage to the copyright producer. For example, Limewire was sued for $75 trillion, based upon Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Action enabling such large fines per violation. This potential award is more money than the entire music recording industry has made since Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877, and thus in no way corresponds to the actual demonstrated “damages,” to the record industry…

Those rates might have made sense in commercial settings (though even then they arguably seemed high), but in a world where everyone copies stuff at home all the time, the idea that your iPod could make you liable for a billion dollars in damages is excessive.


Today’s legal regime of copyright law is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer. It is a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value. We frankly may have no idea how it actually hurts innovation, because we don’t know what isn’t able to be produced as a result of our current system.

Most importantly, there’s a proposed solution.

A. Free 12-year copyright term for all new works – subject to registration, and all existing works are renewed as of the passage of the reform legislation. If passed today this would mean that new works have a copyright until 2024.
B. Elective-12 year renewal (cost 1% of all United States revenue from first 12 years – which equals all sales).
C. Elective-6 year renewal (cost 3% of revenue from the previous 12 years).
D. Elective-6 year renewal (cost 5% of revenue in previous 6 years).
E. Elective-10 year renewal (10% of ALL overall revenue – fees paid so far).
This proposal would terminate all copyright protection after 46 years. This is obviously a steep cliff, particularly from the extension of copyright from 36 to 46 years. But the point is to discourage indefinite copyright.

And I literally have nothing to add. Reform copyright, create innovation and improve education, and lots of great things happen. Read it, and write your senators and representative voicing your support.

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