June 10, 2003  ·  Lessig

We have posted another letter written to members of Congress from directors and actors about the threat that endless copyright terms creates for our culture. As the letter argues, most of the film from the 1920s and 1930s is not commercially exploited, which means most of the film from the 1920s and 1930s sits unpreserved and rotting away. But because of copyright regulations, it is effectively impossible to restore this film until the copyright expires. And when weill that be exactly?

Meanwhile, we’re approaching 12,000 signatures, which is great great news. Please help spread the news.

  • Tim

    Perhaps we need an “underground” – a collection of people, with moles in the film vaults, that will restore and/or digitize (with cleanup) the old films (and I’m sure there’s old vinyl records out there too) before they rot. If they’re being ignored, it should be fairly easy to have a couple missing for a while while copies are made.

    When the law is so insanely wrong, ignoring it seems the sanest course.

  • Anonymous

    “When the law is so insanely wrong, ignoring it seems the sanest course.”

    Seems like you intended this as a side-comment, so I probably shouldn’t harp on it too much. That said, this is pretty close to the attitude of unapologetic media pirates. Granted, what you are advocating can be likened to trying to rescue someone from a burning building even if it means being charged with trespassing, but the big difference is what the law regulates.

    Were you rescuing a person from a burning building, there would be a conflict of physical welfare and abstract intellectual welfare, a conflict of the physical world with the world of ideas. The immediate physical welfare is much more pressing and therefore a much more compelling goal than avoiding trespassing on someone’s property.

    With piracy (or IP violation, etc) there is no such distinction. Both goals, the goal of IP rights and the goal of intellectual freedom, inhabit the world of thought; there is no way to say that one is particularly more pressing than another. The problem is not that it is not possible to pirate media; the RIAA has fully prosecuted perhaps 10 people worldwide out of thousands or millions of violations. The problem is that any intellectual excercise is potentially an intellectual violation as well. As I said, any violation can be committed with no punishment, just about. Butan intellectual barrier is barrier enough when dealing with intellectual expression; physical barriers are unnecessary.

    I’m not sure if all of that makes sense, so I suppose I can sum it up as saying that the issue here is not that something that should be done can or cannot be done, or, really, for that matter, the loss of some old footage from the 20′s and 30′s. The issue is that such intellectual actions, actions in the world of thought, are forbidden. And in the world of thought, merely forbidding it, regardless of realistic punishment, is more hampering than it has any right to be.

  • Tim

    I did not intend to endorse any kind of piracy in my post, but merely to state that the conservation of these films needed to be done. In fact you would hope that the owners of these copyrighted works would allow them to be copied for conservation purposes, because if they are not, they lose their IP forever. They don’t want do it themselves, because this particular IP currently has no monetary value to them which would offset the copying costs. Others might copy it for historical, research, or altruistic reasons, regardless of profit motive.

    Possibly the Eldred Act would solve this too by putting these into the public domain so that they could be copied. If not, perhaps there should be exceptions to current laws such that:

    • If it can be demonstrated that the medium containing the IP is in danger of physical deterioration past the point of recovery,
    • or it can be demonstrated that the mechanisms for recovery from the medium are scarce
    • then anyone in the public can make a “safekeeping” copy of the IP on new media
    • and post a notice of such with the Copyright Office

    This would allow IP to be safeguarded, with the public knowing who was responsible for the copy, and no legal loss of ownership of the copyright.

    Before anyone flames me for my post, I am not advocating the current state of affairs in copyright law, merely trying to come up with a workable situation for this endangered intellectual property.