An optimal copyright term

Victor Keegan in How long should copyright last? covers the arguments for a shorter copyright term in the digital age.

To exemplfy the absurdity of a strict application of copyrights, he points to Nate Andersen who reports that John Tehranian, a law professor at the University of Utah, totted up all the infringements he might have made in a typical day, estimating it could have cost him more than $12m (£5.8m) in “fines”.

Andersen believes that the US Copyright Act of 1976, which granted copyrights automatically (rather than on registration), “hand[ed] out rights so broad that most Americans simply find them absurd”.

In the UK, copyrights have, since inception, been automatic, and I don’t see a problem with that per se. The problem arises because copyright terms have periodically been extended from the original 14 years and there is pressure from the media industry incumbents to further extend them in an era when they should in fact be reduced for optimal effect.

Rufus Pollock, a research fellow in economics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and a director of the Open Knowledge Foundation, demonstrates this in his paper Forever Minus a Day? Some Theory and Empirics of Optimal Copyright. “Optimal copyright” falls as the costs of production go down (for example as a result of digitisation) and, in general, over time. Using a simple model he characterises the “optimal term” as a function of a few key parameters, and using a combination of new and existing data on recordings and books, finds it to be around 15 years. In other words, at about 15 years the benefits that derived from the creator’s initial monopoly are outweighed by the benefits that would arise by setting their work free.

One thought on “An optimal copyright term”

  1. Apparently dear sir,

    You are of a species that has no great creative ability worth protecting anyway. I suppose you also feel it prudent to turn over sensitive military secrets or the original prints of Van Gogh, for instance, so that just anyone can have unlimited access to things that they either did not or do not have the ability to create.
    Then perhaps we should also legislate the act of forcing your children to do free chores for all of the neighborhood because it would be more adventageous for your neighbors to not have to bear the burden of child birth and diaper changes just to get the lousy garbage taken out??!!
    Furthermore, many of the people who own copyrights, trademarks, patents and the like, often times work countless hours at great personal expense (alienation of loved ones, compromised health conditions). More than likely, the very people who wish to have free use of their intellectual property do very little if anything to encourage or support the creators admirable quest to bring forth newness to this world.
    So I say to hell with you and your ridiculous theory of making a creators work public domain after 15 years! I dare say that you’d not want your expertise and knowledge base, gained through years of experience and expensive training to be given away to the public after someone elses’ formula suggests that you should have long recuped your expenses.
    I know that you probably get paid to analyze great thinkers and contributors to the world. I am also sure that you are lettered and have the best formal education that your money could buy. However, you probably should have just gone to a community college and saved many years of simple thought and thousands of dollars!! Feel free to have your opinion but please know that you are talking about the intellectual content that drives a multi-billion dollar industry!! Are you out of your @#$^% head man???!!!

    Community College Protege’

    Ferdinand Mcafee

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