Why Copyright Law is so Mickey Mouse—And How to Fix It: Q&A with Jerry Brito


"If I take your car, you no longer have your car. If I sing a song that you wrote, you still have your song," says Mercatus Center senior research fellow Jerry Brito in explaining the difference between real property and intellectual property.

The latter, he stresses, is statutory property, created by the Constitution and designed to secure for creators a limited period of exclusive control of their works. "That's exactly why we have copyright: So you can turn a profit." But that incentive to create is supposed to be balanced again society's gain from having works go into the public domain, where anyone can use them. The original copyright term in the U.S. lasted for 14 years and could be renewed once. Under current law, the term is the life of the creator plus 70 years. At the same time, enforcement against copyright infringement and unauthorized use has been on the rise.

Brito is the editor of the new book, Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess, which features contributions by David Post, Tom W. Bell, Christina Mulligan, Reihan Salam, Patrick Ruffini, Tim B. Lee, and Eli Dourado. Copyright Unbalanced argues that Congress acts as a tool of Hollywood and other powerful interests, extending copyright terms whenever Mickey Mouse or other properties are about to enter the public domain. Returning to the original understanding of copyright, says Brito, is essential, especially since copying has never been so easy.

Nick Gillespie talked with Brito about copyright excesses, Mickey Mouse, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and whether Brito—a lawyer by training—has unauthorized materials on his hard drive.

About 5 minutes.

Camera by Zach Weissmueller and Joshua Swain; edited by Swain.

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