Tag Archives | How to Fix Copyright

How to Fix Copyright, Part Deux

My first post addressed some of the common assumptions about what copyright laws can do. The two syllogisms and one tautology were not an expression of my beliefs, but rather an expression of common views, views I believe are mistaken for reasons I detail in the introduction to and in Chapter 3 of the book. That they are mistaken doesn’t mean that copyright serves no purpose: I believe copyright can serve a purpose of protecting against free-riding and in creating conditions under which investments can be made in a stable legal environment.

Agreeing that copyright can serve valuable purposes doesn’t, though, tell us about the necessary level of protection. Chapter 8 of the book deals with the term of copyright, how long protection should last. A great deal has been written about this, and court cases have been brought and lost challenging Congress’s extension of the term of protection, most notably in the Eldred case, which challenged part of a 1998 law extending the term another 20 years.

I believe the Eldred challenge suffered from poor strategy but the outcome is likely to have been the same, nevertheless. Evidencing a deference to Congress rare in most areas, the Court seemingly granted carte blanche to extend the term of copyright to whatever length the legislature wants so long as Congress merely states a belief that doing so would provide an incentive to create. By contrast, in the area of abrogating sovereign immunity, the Court reacted quite differently, getting into the weeds of how many witnesses there were at hearings and the substance of what they said.

The Eldred Court also engaged in what I regard as an indefensible jettisoning of the Constitutional text: the grant of power in Article I, section 8 clause 8 is to promote the progress of science. […]

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How to Fix Copyright, Part I

Thanks to Eugene for allowing to be a guest and to discuss my new book How to Fix Copyright (Oxford University Press). This is the first of a few posts. The title indicates that the book is both prescriptive – offering solutions (this is the “how to” part) – and attempts to be constructive: I want to fix, that is, improve copyright law’s effectiveness. I believe laws are tools, not ends in themselves, and that we should measure, empirically, their effectiveness against their stated objective.

We do not inherently need strong laws or weak laws anymore than we inherently need strong or weak medicines. We need laws and medicines that are fit for their purpose. What are copyright laws supposed to do? The most popular things copyright laws are said to do are: (1) provide incentives for authors to create works they would not create in the absence of that incentive; (2) provide the public with access to those works; and, (3) in some countries, provide respect, via non-economic rights, for those who create cultural works.

These goals are often fleshed out in ways that fit into the following two syllogisms and one tautology. Syllogism number one: Copyright is the basis for creativity. Creativity is the basis for culture. Therefore, copyright is the basis for culture. Syllogism number two: Copyright is the basis for a knowledge-based economy. The knowledge-based economy is the basis for competitiveness. Therefore, copyright is the basis for competitiveness. The tautology is the statement that the creative industries are those industries dependent on copyright laws and therefore copyright laws are essential to the growth of the creative industries.

The book examines the evidence for these statements to figure out if our current laws are accomplishing these goals, and if not, whether they can be amended, or if […]

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