December 8, 2006  ·  Lessig

For almost 10 years now, I’ve been waging a war against retrospective term extension. My simple argument has been that copyright is about creative incentives, and you can’t create incentives retrospectively.

I now see I am apparently wrong.

As reported yesterday, there was an ad in the FT listing 4,000 musicians who supported retrospective term extension. If you read the list, you’ll see that at least some of these artists are apparently dead (e.g. Lonnie Donegan, died 4th November 2002; Freddie Garrity, died 20th May 2006). I take it the ability of these dead authors to sign a petition asking for their copyright terms to be extended can only mean that even after death, term extension continues to inspire.

I’m not yet sure how. But I guess I should be a good sport about it, and just confess I was wrong. For if artists can sign petitions after they’ve died, then why can’t they produce new recordings fifty years ago?

December 7, 2006  ·  Lessig

December 7th. A date which will live in infamy.

So the day after the Gowers Review issued perhaps the most sensible document about IP produced by a government related entity in the 20th or 21st century — the report, remember, that after a careful review of the evidence, concluded that as a matter of principle, the copyright term of existing works should never be extended — 4,000 artists signed an advertisement in the FT calling for “fair play for musicians” by extending the copyright term for recordings from 50 to 95 years. As CNN reports,

Without a change in the law, the catalogue of McCartney’s Beatles could be up for grabs from 2012 and 2013, including early hits like “Love Me Do” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.

Oh jeez. Poor Paul, you may think. Robbed in his old age. Except of course, as popculture maven Jon Zittrain reports, and popstar-blinded CNN omits, McCartney doesn’t own his “catalogue” and anyway, the only right at issue is the recording. The underlying composition right will be “McCartney’s” for at least 70 years more.

But I get the fairness argument: Congress cheated the American people by violating the Gowers principle against extending existing terms, so it is only fair that Parliament cheat the British people too. How else will Sir Cliff afford the upkeep on the house in Barbados that Tony Blair likes to visit unless he gets another 45 years monopoly on his 1956 recordings?

What’s needed here is some good user-generated guerrilla content — remember Napster_Bad — so that the other side of this story might pierce the press-relation’s wall of these cultural elites, and they can begin to explain just why 90+% of our past should be buried for another two generations so that they can profit even more.

Or I’d be happy if they could just answer my question: Why would they oppose a system in which to get the benefit of an almost doubling of their copyright term, they had to ask?

December 6, 2006  ·  Lessig

The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property has been released. It is here.

Meanwhile, you can read two reports the Review commissioned. One is a fantastic report about the economics of term extension. You can download it here.

The second is a report about Orphan Works (I’ve not read this yet). You can get it here.

My piece in the Financial Times today about the report is here. The punch line:

There are some who believe that copyright terms should be perpetual. Britain did the world a great service when it resolved that debate almost 300 years ago, by establishing one of the earliest copyright regimes to limit copyright to a fixed term. It could now teach the world a second important lesson: any gift of term extension should only go to those who ask.