Well, that about wraps it up for copyright

I just read this article on TechDirt: EU Officially Seizes The Public Domain, Retroactively Extends Copyright.  As the article says, “This is nothing short of governments and the entertainment industry seizing works from the public domain”.  Let’s be clear: it’s theft.  It’s a matter of big companies (and it should surprise no-one that record labels have lobbied aggressively for this) stealing content that belongs to you and me, and taking it for themselves.

In fact, let’s call it exactly what it is: piracy.

And the shocking thing is, this piracy is not a crime.  It’s legally sanctioned.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Let’s take a moment, then, to consider two forms of “copyright theft”.

In the form that record labels are so worried about, you give me a copy of your MP3.  Then I have a copy, and you still have a copy.  (Many people would argue that since no-one has their possessions taken away, this by definition is not “theft”, but let it pass.)

But in the form of copyright theft that has just been enacted by the EU, they take books and music that were freely available to everyone, and lock them up.  If you owned a copy, you no longer have the right to it.  Neither do I, nor do any of the other people who have copies or might have obtained them.  Now that is theft.

What this tells us is that the content owners (note, not the content creators, who are a completely different set of people) hold the rest of us in utter contempt.  They have no interest in what is fair or what is right.  Placing out-of-copyright works from the 1940s back under copyright can’t possibly provide any incentive for creators to make more stuff, which is the supposed purpose of copyright.  So there is simply no other way to read this move than as a land-grab made for purely greedy purposes.

And what this means is …

… that copyright is over.  It’s never been possible to enforce copyright in the digital age, and what power it’s retained has depended entirely on the honesty and goodwill of consumers.  When I choose to buy the House series 5 DVD box-set, it’s not because that’s the only way I can see those episodes, it’s because it seems right to me that I should do that rather than torrenting the episodes — which would be trivially easy to do.  But by demonstrating their absolute contempt of right and wrong, the content owners are forfeiting whatever moral high-ground they may have held.

The message that this ruling sends to listeners and viewers is simple: copyright is a tool for taking things away from you.  It was intended as a bargain, but it isn’t that any more.  It’s a weapon of coercion.

To summarise: content owners are saying SCREW YOU to consumers.  And so, as sure as night follows day, consumers will say SCREW YOU right back to content owners.  And I won’t be condemning them when they do.

It’s over.  The copyright system is morally bankrupt and technologically impotent.  I’m shedding no tears.

Update (the next day)

I (or rather the article I read) may have misinterpreted the new copyright extension, as discussed in the addendum to this article on TechFruit.  If the addendum is correct, the additional twenty years will not be retroactive after all: so works published between 1941 and 1961 and which have now entered the public domain will not be taken back; but everything published since then will remain under copyright for an additional twenty years, which of course means that no new material will enter the public domain for the next twenty years.

If so, then that is slightly less iniquitous than I’d initially thought.  Still immoral, though, and the basic point remains: that when content owners show such contempt for the population, they have to expect it to be reciprocated.

20 responses to “Well, that about wraps it up for copyright

  1. I agree with most of this, but I don’t see any evidence in the linked article that anyone is seizing public domain works. They’re ‘just’ preventing other works from falling into the public domain. The reason is simple, by the way – it’s because otherwise the Beatles’ material would have started falling into the public domain next year.

  2. I don’t think that’s right, Andrew. “Retroactively extends coptyright another 20 years” (from 50 to 70) means that works between 50 and 70 years old (i.e. anything from 1941 to 1961) were public domain, but are not once more under copyright. Is there another way to understand that phrase?

  3. Yeah, that’s what the link you have says, but the link they provide as evidence says nothing of the sort.

  4. Pingback: EU Retroactively Applies Copyright, Seizes Public Domain – M3

  5. Having read the rather garbled, auto-translated original source article, the word “retroactive” doesn’t show up anywhere, and it doesn’t read like it is. That said, it’s an automated translation, so I don’t know for certain.

    None the less, I think music labels in particular lost the moral high ground when they started running around buying laws to circumvent existing copyright protections consumers had and engaged in commerical-scale copyright infringement of artists’ rights, all after having changed the law so that artists don’t actually own the rights to anything they produce any more [1].

    All this whilst essentially ensuring that most artists don’t see a cent from what they do make.

    I won’t shed a tear to see these amoral buggers burned to the ground.

  6. This is a very US-centric view of copyright. Our system is indeed for the purpose of incentivizing new works, as it says in Article I, Section 8 Clause 8 of the Constitution.

    But the European system has always been just as much about, if not more so, artist’s rights. Remember that without copyright, artists have zero control over derivative works and licensing. That means Audi could use Elanor Rigby in its commercials for free and over the objections of the remaining Beatles and their heirs. Burger King might modify scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey to sell burgers (imagine a monolithic Whopper). Other companies might “re-master” classics like The Graduate by abridging certain scenes and using new colorization and sell them on the cheap as “Director’s Cuts” without the consent of the actual directors like Mike Nichols. Sex toy manufacturers could create dildos in the form of Mickey Mouse. Without copyright, the authors of these works would have no legal grounds to complain.

    There is always a balancing act to be struck between such artist’s rights to control the distribution, derivation, and performances of original works and consumer/creator freedoms that this author obviously values. European policymakers often value artist’s rights very highly. This is understandable given the pride these countries have in cultural works made centuries ago such as Rembrandt’s paintings and Beethoven’s symphonies. Countries such as France even have laws that require art dealers to give percentages of proceeds of art sales to the heirs of the artists. You might think that is unwise policy, but it is not stealing: just a different set of priorities.

    Despite the conspiratorial tone here, then, extending the length of copyright retroactively is entirely consistent with European intellectual property principles and those of the Berne Convention to which the United States is a signatory. The U.S. itself has been doing the same thing since the Sonny Bono Act. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

  7. Just noticed the author is British. Replace US with “Anglo-centric” and “Europeans” with “Continental Europeans” and the meaning is basically the same.

  8. David: “That means Audi could use Elanor Rigby in its commercials for free and over the objections of the remaining Beatles and their heirs. Burger King might modify scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey to sell burgers (imagine a monolithic Whopper). Other companies might “re-master” classics like The Graduate by abridging certain scenes and using new colorization and sell them on the cheap as “Director’s Cuts” without the consent of the actual directors like Mike Nichols. Sex toy manufacturers could create dildos in the form of Mickey Mouse. ”

    And what is exactly wrong with this? It’s a nature of human kind to make it’s progress by building upon the work of our predecessors. The authors of Mickey Mouse didn’t create it from thin air, they were influenced by existing ideas from public domain and contains many references to them. If you advocate long-term controll of authors and distributors over their work, you not only advocate technological imposibility, you also advocate stifling of creation of derivative works, which will greatly reduce the variety of arts produced.

    This copyright extension benefits no one expect few already rich artists and distributors. It damages the rest of us becaous it damages the public domain.

  9. @BearGriz , Two of those links say nothing about any ‘retrospective’ changes. And the one link that does – http://www.techfruit.com/2011/09/08/europe-moves-to-retroactively-extend-copyright-to-benefit-corporations-and-cliff-richard/ – actually specifically says:

    “//UPDATE// For the sake of clarity I should have added that the proposed copyright extension will be “partially retroactive” in that works already in the public domain will not move back to being under copyright, but works still in copyright will be extended. For example if this directive is passed this year, the copyright of all works created in 1963 would be extended for 20 years, but those made in 1960 would not fall back under copyright. The differences are discussed more thoroughly on p.56 of this EU proposal’s impact assessment [PDF].”

    Thus making the opposite of your point.

    Perhaps you should have bothered to read the links you posted (which, incidentally, were not the same links that were originally posted here, and so it’s hardly fair to expect people to have read them) *before* insulting others’ reading comprehension?

  10. The publication date doesn’t really have all that much influence here. What’s important is when the author or creator died, since that’s when the 50 or 70 year period starts in pretty much all countries.

  11. I agree with you Mike. Great rant, even if public domain works aren’t going back under copyright.

    The fact of the matter is that for all intents and purposes, in both the EU and the US, copyright is now perpetual and everlasting. The continual extension ALWAYS happens. Steamboat Willie will ALWAYS be under copyright.

    It is a severe abuse of the system and in the US, while their motives are clear with respect to perpetual copyright and given that perpetual copyright is unconstitutional, the supreme court will not strike down any extension because it is “just an extension.” I wonder if, when the US is 500 years old (if it can even get there), they’ll begin to scratch their heads about how copyrights now cover over 300 years…..

    The music and film industries care nothing for “culture” or “society.” While movies and film are fun to watch, protecting profits through means that have a serious negative impact on society is not right. Almost all other industries accept that there are some losses inherent in doing business and deal with it. They do not try and lock up every possible cent they might have made.

    What’s even worse than this is the new PROTECT IP act they’re trying to ram through the US congress.

    If PROTECT IP passes in the US and subsequently destroys the DNS system and neuters SSL functionality on the net, I would not ask that those supporting it not just be forced to apologize for the “unintented consequences” that materialized. I will ask that they be jailed for being the menace to society that they are.

    The internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. To destroy it in order to guarantee that an antiquated business model be allowed to survive, is the height of political travesty. Any member of congress who votes for the PROTECT IP act is unfit to serve.

  12. To me the contract at time of sale was that 50-100 years later the music purchased would be freely distributable, adaptable, performable, etc.

    Laws like this change such contracts.

    Could it possibly be that this change only applies to music bought from now on? Probably a tough on to decide.


  13. Melancholy Elephants. Enough said.

  14. Any work created up until this “law” was released was on the grounds it was covered by copyright for 50 years, I accepted your contract; that I would own it, if not now as the weasels only license it, but in 50 years time. I reject your new contract, content I have purchased will be mine in 50 years or you can break our contract and pay me back for everything I’ve ever purchased over my 50 years on this planet. From now, as I now consider you all a bunch of [expletive deleted], I will never pay to consume your stuff again.

  15. Can the law be chalanged on any grounds?

  16. Even if it doesn’t apply to works made between 1941 and 1961 it is STILL theft and retroactive because it’s applying to works that would otherwise have their copyright expire 20 years sooner. When those works were created there was an expectation of a 50 year copyright term and the public knew they could expect to have them available in the public domain in 50 years time.

    Now however the law has retroactively increased the copyright term for existing works made after 1961. This will be theft.

    If they wanted to avoid it being theft then the new term limit should only apply to new works (i.e. created after the law was passed).

  17. Here in the U.S., big $$$ corps have been paying congress big $$$ to extend copyright for a long time. It sucks.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

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  19. Pingback: To Kill A Mockingbird is a fine example of how copyright is failing us all | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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