Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for April, 2018

A Reason to Disregard Copyright Law

Posted by Trixter on April 25, 2018

(This is a short rant about morals and obligations, not the ability to make money off of your work.  If you rely on copyright law to earn your living, you are not the audience for this article.  It is also not a call to action to break the law, which you do at your own risk without holding me responsible.)

Everyone knows that anything created more than 90 years ago is no longer eligible for copyright and is in the public domain, right?  Not so fast: In 2011, copyright law was amended in a way that affects audio recordings:  The composition might be public domain, but any recordings of it are not.  From https://www.copyright.gov/docs/sound/pre-72-report.pdf :

As a consequence of this legal construct, there is virtually no public domain in the United States for sound recordings and a 55 year wait before this will change. To put this in perspective, one need only compare the rules of copyright term for other works. For example, a musical composition published in 1922 would have entered the public domain at the end of 1997, but a sound recording of that same musical composition that was fixed the same year will remain protected for another 70 years, until 2067.

That means this recording from 1887 will somehow have a copyright term of 180 yearsThat’s seven generations.  But hey, the recording artist’s great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will still have the right to earn money off of the work or remove it from public consumption, and that’s the important thing, right?

It’s laws like this that turn people like Jason Scott into crazed archival psychopaths.  While I don’t agree with his methods, we definitely share the same concerns:  Copyright law in the US is not merely unrealistic, but works to actively and permanently destroy original works every year by preventing their archival.

I had this conversation with my father recently, who is a numismatist internationally recognized as an expert in some areas in his field. He has archives of the articles he’s written over the past 50 years, but wants none of it archived in a public forum because the work is technically under copyright under various publications’ names, and he holds a firm moral stance on playing by the rules. In my opinion, this dooms his work: None of those publications have publicly-accessible archives. His articles are already inaccessible (unless some library somewhere has numismatic publications from 40 years ago, which is not a realistic expectation as libraries these days are migrating towards digital as a way to save money and offer more services), so unless somebody does something, his work over the last half century will likely be lost forever.

Nobody cares about your work enough to preserve it after you’re gone. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. The changes in information technology over the last 20 years have enabled the human race to produce so much content per second, over so many different topics and channels, that anything you produce has hardly any audience.  Worse, any tiny audience you might have rarely has the free time to consume it.  At the end of the day, that leaves a handful of people who consume your content and care about preserving it for future consumers, but the existing state of copyright law enforces penalties for that.  The days of printing a book and expecting it to be available in public libraries for 50+ years are long gone.

For those who desire copyright law so that they retain control over their work, realize this:  Our contribution to the world — our only purpose in life — is what we do, and what we leave behind.  If you write a book, it’s ostensibly because you have something to say, and want people to read what you have to say.  You create a work that you’re proud of, and release it into the world.  Copyright law grants you the right to request it destroyed at a later date, but it is selfish, petty, and immature to do so.

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