Copyright Imperialism

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The Australian copyright on Gone With the Wind (published in 1936) expired five years ago, but the U.S. copyright runs until 2031. So when the Australian branch of Project Gutenberg posted the novel online, it received an e-mail message from a law firm representing Margaret Mitchell's estate. Now Gone With the Wind is no longer available at Project Gutenberg of Australia's site. A story in yesterday's New York Times notes that differences in copyright terms combined with Internet publication make such conflicts inevitable. As material such as Elvis and Beatles songs moves into the public domain in some countries, U.S. companies increasingly will try to impose American copyright law on other nations, with the result that our ever-expanding terms will be exported along with our books, songs, and movies. Is there any hope that the international legal competition will work in the opposite direction, with the shorter copyright terms of other countries exerting a restraining influence on Congress?

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  1. Yeah, what pigshit. With any luck, broadband on East Timor will render copyright useless around the planet.

  2. Jacob Sullum,

    Not adequately addressing the length of protection/ownership was was one of the greatest weaknesses of the Berne Convention and the Uruguay Round of GATT, and remains so.

  3. “Is there any hope that the international legal competition will work in the opposite direction, with the shorter copyright terms of other countries exerting a restraining influence on Congress?”

    te he, hah, hah, HAH, HAH, giggle, snort…..hmmm..ahem….ah…thanx for the laugh.

  4. Is there any hope that the international legal competition will work in the opposite direction, with the shorter copyright terms of other countries exerting a restraining influence on Congress?

    In a word: no.

  5. Do we even want other countries restraining our Congress? Doesn’t that amount to foreign interference in our own affairs? Granted, I know the U.S. does too much interfering in other countries, but I doubt we should want other countries doing the same, regardless of the issue.

  6. Eric,

    If our law impacts their internal affairs, then it is equally OK for their law to impact ours. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  7. Eric,

    Also, let’s note that before the war with Iraq you were the one arguing that national sovereignty is a value which has its limits.

  8. Jason Bourne,
    My point is that both the goose and the gander need to mind their own business.

    As for the Iraq thing, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. You may have confused me with someone else. I supported the Iraq war, but don’t recall saying that sovereignty has its limits.

  9. First off, it isn’t imperialism. Project Gutenberg was under zero obligation to cave in to an email from a law firm in New York.

    And, as the article points out, there are other well known works on the website that are in public domain in Aussie Land but still copyright protected here.

    I also realize the point Jacob is making is that the non-uniformity of copyright law world wide is a problem when connected to the internet.

    But I don’t see the problem. If Gone With The Wind is public domain in Australia that’s just too dang bad for the Mitchell Trusts. Sorry boys and girls, nothing illegal here. Or in Arabic? Fah Que.

    OTOH, please keep in mind that I don’t buy into the ‘greater good for society’ trumps rights to intellectual property because ‘we only want to extend just enough copyright protection to make sure that Alan Jackson keeps writing those hits’ argument that seems so popular here.

  10. How is the law firm representing the estate of the late Ms. Mitchell gonna going to enforce US copyright law in Australia? Or China, if the server’s there, for instance?

  11. Eric,

    There are too many damn Erics here. 🙂

    TWC,

    OTOH, please keep in mind that I don’t buy into the ‘greater good for society’ trumps rights to intellectual property because ‘we only want to extend just enough copyright protection to make sure that Alan Jackson keeps writing those hits’ argument that seems so popular here.

    Well, you may not “buy it,” but that’s the basic theory by which Anglo-American copyright law works; its quite utilitarian in approach. Now, if you want something along the lines of a Hegelian approach, where artists, etc., have a “moral” right to their works, then you have to look to Europe.

  12. I think you’ve got to build a big cyber-wall around the US – the way georgewbush.com did to keep the rest of the world off his site. Or the way China does to keep the Chinese in. (I think they got the technology from America.)

    Then Americans could be protected from–>

    copyright infringement

    unfiltered news about the world

    temptation in general.

    US Net Nanny can:

    Search over a billion web pages and return porn- and idea-free results

    Block illicit, obscene and other objectionable material

    Limit the time your subjects spend online according to your rules

    Record Chat (IRC) and block Instant Messaging programs

    Monitor activity and send you daily e-mail reports

    If Ashcroft stays, I think we’re on to a winner with this.

  13. Is there any hope that the international legal competition will work in the opposite direction, with the shorter copyright terms of other countries exerting a restraining influence on Congress?
    The law of diffuse interests and concentrated gain states:

    No.

  14. Diffuse costs rather.

    And still no.

  15. This particular outfit at this particular time caved a simple letter from a lawyer. They needn’t have. Then again, they’re making no money on this. Some cut rate publisher selling cheap paperbacks of public domain books, say, will take a different tact no doubt. So will some record companies selling Sinatra and Elvis CDs.

    Then what’s the RIAA going to do? They don’t have the clout to do things. Their control over the US government is fairly powerful, but still limited. How much influence does the MPAA and such have to get Bush to seriously push their pork barrel issues into the major foreign policy issue that it would have to be to get any significant legal support from foreign governments? Pretty questionable.

    By the way, here’s the white paper on copyright from my recently concluded US Senate campaign.

    THE TV COMMERCIAL

  16. If Ashcroft stays, I think we’re on to a winner with this.

    Sit down, Raymond. I have some shocking news.

  17. Wow, this ties into a whole bunch of topics.

    First, more to the point, what about drug patents? India’s had a long resistance to international treaties, and their pharma companies are chomping at the bit to make AZT at-cost plus a cent for Africa. I wish them the best of luck.

    Next, onto the national sovereignity… as a disinterested observer, I was sure hoping that the genetic modification scare in Europe three or four years ago would have forced all those products that use any ADM-sourced soy products to be labelled that they were in fact GM foods. The US, at the behest of big ag, squelched that in the WTO. I was hoping that Europe would have prevailed – foreign countries have every right to mandate truthful labels on imports; let their importers and consumers sort it out in the market. I note that the USDA mandated “Nutrition Facts” label is ubiquitous on many packaged food products internationally.

    Finally, over at Slate, there is a fascinating article by Dahlia Lithwick about a case argued before the Supreme Court recently regarding a prosecution in the US about importers who were evading a Canadian tariff on liquor. Really gets at the question of the US enforcing other nation’s laws. Apparently, they do.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2109410/

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