Copyright gone wild

Were I lawyer, I think I might get involved in copyright. Enshrined in our constitution, copyright was created in the United States “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

It’s a beautifully written statement, describing the rationale and the parameters of copyright. “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” and “securing for a limited time.”

Initially, that limited time was 14 years, renewable for a second 14 years. Over the years those terms were extended to 28 years each. In 1976, though, Congress changed the rules to say copyright would last 75 years or the life of the author plus 50 years.

Given the the expressed reason for copyright is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” it’s hard to imagine how extending copyright would serve that purpose. Nonetheless, copyright was extended.

A cynic might say that wealthy corporate copyright holders, such as Disney, wanted to maintain a stranglehold on their creations to continute to profit from them. However, since this is obviously does not “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” that couldn’t possibly be the case.

In any event, works that would have been in the public domain, had the 1976 law not been passed continue to be locked away behind copyright “protection.” For example, starting yesterday, works from 1955 would have entered the public domain. Duke University yesterday published a partial list of those works, including:

I’m confident that the extension of copyright has not promoted “the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” It’s time we restore balance to copyright. We the people give creators the benefits of limited protection, and in return we welcome works of art into the public domain for the benefit of society at large.
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