From the industry that brought you Bear v. Shark, now try Eldred v. Ashcroft! The Oral Arguments were held today in front of the Supreme Court. Click on the above link for a general synopsis of the case. For an in-depth description of the petitioners case, please click here. I think that this may just be the most important case to come before the Supreme Court in years, perhaps a decade or more. At issue are millions of artistic works that should be in the public domain, but were recovered at the last instant by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act for the various media conglomerates (AOL/Time Warner, Disney, et. al.) If the SC rules unconstitutional that bill, or strikes down part of it then, for example, Steamboat Willy(sp?) will pass into the public domain and anyone could make their own derivitive works (further down the river, perhaps?), sell copies of the original, or simply download the original for free. In fact, the Disney company is more interested in their Winnie the Pooh holdings than Mickey, but the basic fact is this: the Sonny Bono Act was bought and paid for in Congress, and it is unconstitutional.
I don’t care about free N’Sync music, or the ability to download Event Horizon on KaZaA. I care about the hundreds of thousands of books that someone holds the copyrights to that don’t care. They say no one can produce the books, and refuse to themselves. If some jackass decided that Shakespeare’s works were his, and he didn’t think there was a market for them, and then he died, there may be no Shakespeare today. Literature becomes classic and legendary because it is preserved for hundreds or thousands of years. Now, I can’t say that John Grisham’s new novel is legendary or that it will stand the test of a millenium, a modern day Beowulf, but there has certinaly been worthy literature produced since 1922 that is worth saving for future generations. Meanwhile, some publishing company owns the rights to a novel, and the company folds, but the company still holds the copyright for 120 years, and in a 120 years, where does there exist a copy of this work? Most likely nowhere convenient.
The internet provides a clearinghouse for public domain works. If enough mirrors of Project Gutenberg spring up, the published works of humanity could effectively live on forever. The pages rot, but the words remain.
Don’t let the news tell you that this is about pirates wanting access to Britney’s works. It is about no such thing. The sadness is that, with the current laws, works produced 20 years before I was born will not pass into the public domain until well after I die. How is that benefiting society? How is that a ‘deal’ between the content creators and the public?