Intellectual Property

Get Ready for Another Battle Over Copyright Extensions

Countdown to the confrontation.

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Fifteen years ago this week, Bill Clinton signed a 20-year extension to the length of time works are covered by copyright. That means—do the math!—it's just five years til the copyrights he extended are scheduled to start expiring. Gentlemen, start your lobbies:

The Disney conspirators meet to plot their legislative strategy.

Copyright holders like the Disney Corp. and the Gershwin estate have a strong incentive to try to extend copyright extension yet further into the future. But with the emergence of the Internet as a political organizing tool, opponents of copyright extension will be much better prepared. The question for the coming legislative battle on copyright is who will prevail: those who would profit from continuing to lock up the great works of the 20th century, or those who believe Bugs Bunny should be as freely available for reuse as Little Red Riding Hood.

That's Tim Lee writing in The Washington Post. Read the rest of his piece here. Read Reason's coverage of the copyright extension issue here and here.

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  1. I’d say I want porn of Mickey Mouse fisting Donlad Duck, but somehow I have a feeling that’s already available illicitly on the Internet. (No, I haven’t looked.)

    1. Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.

    2. Similar was available pre-Internet. See The Realist.

  2. This is something I don’t understand. Why is IP different from real property? If I can leave my house to my wife/kids when I die, why not my drawings and stories?

    1. Because what would adverse possession of your drawings and stories look like? As long as someone didn’t hold a gun to your family members’ heads and take their physical copies, there’s no downside to them. They aren’t “out” the utilities of your stories. In fact, they and the publishing house could continue to advertise that this was the only “authorized” copy, if it were of value to the publishing house.

      1. Sorry if I am a little slow to understand, but what you are saying is that my original stories would have greater value because they are originals than say if someone took a character I created and made a new story with said character?

        1. Sort of. I made two points. The first is that IP is not like real property because someone else’s use of it does not deny you or yours use of the same. This is the adverse possession part.

          Second, in a world where your IP was respected, but not protected, having the blessing of Floridian (or his family) to publish existing volumes of expand on the Floridaman franchise would add enough value to make you worth paying for such an endorsement, or worth bribing to not take to the internets and denounce them.

          1. Okay. I think I get the adverse possession part. I can still use my ideas even if someone else uses them at the same time so I have not been denied use of my property like I would if someone took my house.

            1. Exactly. So that’s a big part of the argument on the anti-IP. And fairly important for understanding why the analogy to real property is imperfect.

              1. Thanks to you and GS

        2. my original stories would have greater value because they are originals than say if someone took a character I created and made a new story with said character?

          One reason why Star Trek: TOS on Blu-Ray sells for a hundred bucks, whereas your typical Star Trek fan film is on Youtube for free.

          1. Funny you mention this. I just watched a documentary on Star Wars fans and they showed clips from fan films. I had no idea that was a thing.

            1. You’ve never heard of fanfic before?

              1. No. My wife and I was watching netflix and saw the Star Wars doc and we had neither seen this before. They look funny, so I think we will try to find some. This one guy spent two years making his film. Another built a life size millennium falcon. Crazy stuff.

                1. Friend of mine in college did Star Wars fan films. He didn’t build the entire Millennium Falcon, but he did build the loading ramp for one of his films.

      2. Why is adverse possession relevant?

        If someone comes over to your house and swims in your pool while you are at work, it’s still a violation of your property rights even though they didn’t deprive you of use, isn’t it?

        1. It doesn’t change the fact that with real property only one of us can use it at a time, and certainly only one of us could rent or sell it to produce income. Neither of those limitations apply to IP. Sorry.

        2. Adverse possession only applies to moveable property; if you want to talk about real property, then the comparable offense would be trespass. How does trespassing apply to IP?

          1. That first statement is incorrect. Real property can very much be adversely possessed; the correct statement would be that adverse possession is not the only violation of real property. Still the point made by Brett and myself stands: neither adverse possession nor trespass apply to IP.

        3. It is more accurate to say that real property is scarce or more specifically, rivalrous. At any given moment no two can use/have/do with it at once. That’s what makes it real property.

          Property rights are just arbitrarily made up rules. They are derived from a way to preserve the self-ownership of all parties involved.

          Since two people can’t use a rivalrous thing at once, “property rights” are the rules that prevent one party from using force against the other person, to allow both person to preserve self-ownership. i.e. first appropriator for an unowned thing, then transfer of a thing, etc

          Not because of the thing in particular, but because violation of that results in violating self-ownership i.e. I have to physically force you to not use your first-appropriate thing whenever you want.

          But those rules for real property doesn’t apply to non-rivalrous things, and would in fact violate the very first principles upon which real property rights are based on.

          1. *edit*
            Property rights aren’t just arbitrarily made up rules

    2. Because there is no adverse possession with IP. Someone using the likeness of Bugs Bunny doesn’t prevent someone else from using it also. The same doesn’t hold true for real property.

      1. Okay but let’s say I spent 20 years developing an engine that can run on tap water. I have the cost of development to recoup in selling that engine where as someone else could buy my engine take it apart, copy it and produce it cheaper because they don’t have the same cost.

        1. And yet patents aren’t perpetual in the way that copyrights are becoming.

          1. This is something I was conflating, patents with copyrights. I thought they were treated the same as far as protections go. Seems to me they are both ideas just one is mechanical and the other art.

            1. Well, a patent grants you a short-term manufacturing monopoly on an idea that has a physical presence (leaving aside patents for things that run on Turing machines, which I oppose). Copyright originally did a similar thing for original artistic works. Whether you think these things are a good or necessary function of government is what is being discussed. (And I have come around to the minarchist/anarchist idea that this might not be a good function of the state.)

              1. I think the more time I spend here the more I slide towards anarchy. I like the idea of contracts leasing your ideas but they still need an enforcement apparatus. I guess you could use a private court that holds a predefined fine in escrow until the lease is up.

                1. If opposition to the existence of the state didn’t make any practical sense, it would still be a reasonable to oppose it on moral grounds alone.

                  The vast majority of people in-the-know want enforcement of contracts. So why is a government monopoly a necessary thing to make that happen? If lots of people want something, there will exist a market for it.

        2. Then don’t make your product available for sale. If you want people to use it but not reproduce it, then lease it to them under the constraint that they can’t reverse engineer it or make it available for others to do so. Sue lessees who violate the contract. The lessor can be a corporate entity whose ownership can be transferred upon your death.

          Why is a statute necessary to establish what can easily be done through contracts?

          1. I had not though of that as an option.

            1. To be fair, this would not be exactly the same in effect as a patent. It would do nothing against people who are able to devise the same or a similar device/mechanism/process on their own. It also would not compel the publication of the design, so you could in theory maintain your monopoly indefinitely through secrecy. Also, there would need to be treaties normalizing contract enforcement across national borders, or else you would have to forbid export as part of the terms.

              1. ” It would do nothing against people who are able to devise the same or a similar device/mechanism/process on their own”

                And why do you think it should?

                Should Disney be protected from Sony making a better movie?

                This is in fact one of the biggest problems with Patents, not only do they grant you a monopoly on your invention, they grant you a monopoly on any potential variations of it that anyone else may devise, even if they were completely unaware of the existance of your invention in the first place

                1. I never said it was desirable, I was just pointing out a difference between the contractual and statutory approaches. In fact, I think it’s a benefit of the contractual approach that you can’t unilaterally bind unrelated third parties to adherence.

        3. What about the countless years spent by scientists to develop the science you so freely utilized to create your engine? There are two main problems I see with treating IP as real property. The first is the adverse possession issue already described by Brett and GS. The other is that the only person benefiting from IP is the person who put the last bolt in the invention – there is no recognition of all the countless sources you so freely used to develop your invention. Shouldn’t the families of Newton and Cauchy get royalties from every engine designed using their mathematics and mechanics?

          1. Oh, another problem with IP. If it were like real property, there would NEVER be an expiration date. The fact that such an expiration date generally exists for IP means that even its supporters acknowledge that it is distinctly different from ‘real’ property.

            1. Author Mark Halprin noticed this fact and drew exactly the wrong conclusion from it. As far as he’s concerned, his descendents in the year 2525 should still be able to collect royalties from every sale of “A Soldier of the Great War.” (Interestingly, I don’t believe he believes in retroactive application of his principle, so that K?ng Chu?ch?ng and his relatives would collect royalties on every sale of the Analects of Confucius.)

          2. I see your point, but if people don’t have the protection to make a profit off their advancement of science why would anyone dump years of their time and money into inventing new products. Seems to me the best way to turn a profit is to wait for companies to produce an item, buy it, copy it, and sell it cheaper.

            1. Its a fair argument, and I would say that it is one where the pragmatists, idealists, and realists have ever shifting alliances depending on the current society.

            2. I think the real issue is just how much profit “should” you make? As first mover, you will have the initial advantage in the marketplace. How you choose to spend that advantage will determine whether or not it results in long-term profitability. Your competitors will always take some non-zero amount of time to catch up, and engineering is a delicate process that requires iterative refinement. Sell the same stale product indefinitely, and your competitors will shortly undersell you. Continue to invest in its development, and you will likely maintain at least a sizable market share, if not the dominant position.

            3. Neither Einstein nor Poincare were able to protect the theory of relativity with patent law. I honestly do not think that ever slowed down their pursuit of developing the theory. Plus, as mentioned by Brett, the first to introduce a product has a distinct advantage in the marketplace.

              There are MANY Chinese knock-offs of the iphone that have been developed, but Apple still makes bank.

              1. I guess that is part of doing business. If there are not protections on new inventions you have to calculate the time it would take for copies to come on the market and base you investment vs return on that dynamic.

            4. “I see your point, but if people don’t have the protection to make a profit off their advancement of science why would anyone dump years of their time and money into inventing new products.”

              Hmm patents were invented as an idea about 300 years ago and of course we all know that there were no scientific inventions or advancements prior to that.

              And of course that Linux operating system simply does not exist.

              The fact is the idea that patents serve to advance science and technology is ambiguously supported by evidence at best and even then only when patents last for 10 years or less. Longer than that and they clearly serve to retard technological advancement more than they encourage it.

        4. Your engine should be running on static electricity, anyway.

          1. I thought of the atlas engine but I like the conspiracy theory that there are water engines being suppressed by evil oil industry.

    3. This is something I don’t understand. Why is IP different from real property? If I can leave my house to my wife/kids when I die, why not my drawings and stories?

      That is true. If you were to treat IP as real property, then it should never expire. Others are address the adverse possession issue or specifically the lack of rivalrousness of IP, unlike real property, but the other argument is the performative contradiction–that you wouldn’t be able to use the same argument for IP to defend your own IP or even argue or communicate in the first place

      Everything you create made with information from someone else. And if IP doesn’t expire like real property, then you would never be able to say or do anything.

      All words themselves are the product of someone else. If you treat them like real, non-expiring property, then using them without permission is akin to theft.

      Real property is scalable, doesn’t matter if it’s 1 in. or an entire island. So the same principle would apply to words. Somehow people don’t hold a single word as copyrightable, but then what’s the threshold and why should there even be a threshold?

      1. Everything you create made with information from someone else. And if IP doesn’t expire like real property, then you would never be able to say or do anything.

        This was the point I was looking to make via the Newton and Cauchy example. It is impossible to be completely consistent with IP law without rendering the world one big lawsuit.

      2. “Somehow people don’t hold a single word as copyrightable, but then what’s the threshold and why should there even be a threshold?”

        Actually yes they do. See “Threepeat

        1. That’s a trademark, which has different rules than copyright.

    4. Because IP is entirely a creation of government, whereas you’d have a right to your house, and to hand it on to your loved ones, even in the absence of government. (As a matter of fact, governments are established, as folks like Locke told us, to make the exercise of that and other pre-governmental rights more secure.)

  3. Oh, for the days of the Founding when copyright resembled something reasonable. The problem is, even if we went back to those days, we would have this same problem in short order.

    1. Copyright was still based on statutory law for it’s legitimacy and it’s teeth. I can’t think of anything more arbitrary than statutory law.

  4. I don’t care what it is. If you can’t turn a profit after 10 years its a hobby not a business.

  5. Abolish IP, now and forever. Ok, maybe keep a limited form of trademark.

  6. The funny thing is, the left loves to rant about wealth disparities and yet they never oppose IP. And IP is one of the biggest concentrators of wealth in this country. (That’s not why I oppose it, it’s just an effect).

    1. ^This.

      With the caveat that many of the ‘roots oppose IP, but the entertainment industry has a heavy presence among big campaign donors.

  7. Many thanks to all the people who responded to my IP questions.

  8. And about that illustration – “De Molay” is the masonic youth organization, so obligatorily: OMG coded messages!!1!

    The organization is named after Jacques De Molay, the last Grand Master of the (real) Knights Templars.

    1. Fidelitas, my brothers.

  9. Twentieth century? Try nineteenth century. Fucking “Happy Birthday” was written then and still is under copyright.

    Free Happy Birthday! Reject copyright extensions!

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