Sod the public domain

The Centre for the Study of the Public Domain has a look at some of the classic works that would this year be entering the public domain if not for the 1970s changes to US copyright law (and subsequently imposed on us here by Howard’s FTA) because corporate America demanded them:

  • The first two volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of Rings trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers

  • Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (his own translation/adaptation of the original version in French, En attendant Godot, published in 1952)
  • Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim
  • Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception
  • Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!
  • Pauline Réage’s Histoire d’O
  • Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, subtitled “The influence of comic books on today’s youth”
  • Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Mac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants
  • Alan Le May’s The Searchers
  • C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, the fifth volume of The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Alice B. Toklas’ The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

Naturally, those COMMUNIST RADICALS at Duke Law don’t appreciate why we need copyright to last ever longer – because if copyright expired a mere two generations’ worth of time after an author’s death, then authors couldn’t earn a living writing and wouldn’t create these classic works in the first place. Can you imagine Tolkien writing the Lord of the Rings if the copyright was going to expire only 56 years after his death, rather than 95? Of course not. That extra fifty years of potential corporate profits was clearly deeply on his mind, even though it wasn’t enacted for twenty years after his death in a completely different country. Same with Golding, or Lewis – they only wrote for the benefit of the extremely long-term profits of the corporations that would eventually obtain the copyright in their works.

In fact, it’s a complete travesty that some corporation doesn’t own the works of Bach, or Beethoven, or Mozart, and people can play and enjoy them for free. It’s anti-competitive, that’s what it is. It doesn’t matter that no-one living has any particular moral right to profit from them – the important thing is getting them locked up to reduce competition for us now. Somebody should be making you pay. What kind of a world would it be if people enjoyed the classics without paying rent to the modern corporations that didn’t do anything to deserve it?

Frankly, 95 years isn’t enough either. But I’m confident that by the time we get close to those terms expiring, we can get the US Congress to extend them once again. To paraphrase another writer whose classic works we’ve stopped from becoming property of the public: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a corporate boot owning everything — forever.”

That wisdom will cost you $10.85, by the way. Pay up.

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10 responses to “Sod the public domain

  1. jordanrastrick

    The U.S. FTA is one I could almost support withdrawing from because of this bullcrap.

    I mean, if they seriously thought they needed to create stronger incentives for modern authors? Then the new copyright terms should *not have been retrospective.*

  2. Splatterbottom

    I think you are right, the boot of corrupt corporate monopoly is as bad as the boot of big-brother socialism stamping on a human face forever.

  3. You say “socialism” where you mean “totalitarianism”, as if you can’t tell the difference. THAT GOVERNMENT WANTS TO PROVIDE ALL CITIZENS WITH DECENT HEALTHCARE! IT’S TAKING AWAY OUR FREEDOMS!

  4. Splatterbottom

    To be fair, I did use the qualifier “big-brother” to specify the type of socialism I was referring to. You brought Orwell into this, and made the appropriate analogy. My crime, apparently was to agree with you!

  5. jordanrastrick

    Government provided healthcare does restrict freedom to some extent – every government service necessarily must – but its a worthwhile tradeoff in that particular case, IMO. And I don’t care if that makes me a socialist.

    Back to the issue at hand, before anyone tries to pigeonhole this one too much into the bipartisan model, keep in mind that American libertarians (including libertarian-leaning Republicans) have been amongst the strongest critics of strengthening thier IP law; whilst Democrats, with their ties to Hollywood and so on, have been amongst the fiercest proponents of nightmares like the DCMA.

    Its similar to the situation in Australia, where the continuation of the ban on parallel book imports by the ALP was a disgraceful byproduct of progressive sympathies for starving writers. Manufacturing and other working class jobs? Farmers? Let them compete! But writers, no, they need to be propped up by the state. Poor writers, living in middle class voluntary poverty, as I vaguely recall the Sandman so aptly putting it.

    The sad part is that intellectual property creators stand the most to gain from trade liberalisation of any industry. They have practically zero marginal costs, even with respect to distribution now thanks to container shipping and the Internet; an author who can sell books to a free global market of 2 billion English speakers, in the most literate era in human history, shouldn’t need protectionism nor draconic copyright laws. That is to say, provided their writing is good enough that people actually want to buy it.

  6. “My crime, apparently was to agree with you!”

    The unease is understandable. Usually when you’r right, it’s for the wrong reasons.

  7. Wonder what the objectivists would think of copyright…

    … uh…

  8. … = “against, I think”

    I truly suck at html tags. Blame my .php based forum additction.

  9. I got your point, SB, but you had to throw in that inflammatory little dig…

    Jordan, you’re quite right – it’s further evidence of how broken the US political system is that they’re stuck between two corporate parties that both push for the same sort of nasty copyright laws. The Republicans because they like big business; the Democrats because they like Hollywood.

    And the ALP’s wimping out on parallel importing of books was a disgrace.

  10. Objectivists are very much pro-copyright; after all, the founder was a novelist, and everyone is in favor of privilege provided it’s their privilege. Of course, they don’t say that; it’s dressed up in the claim that if you create something, it’s yours by natural right. (If you make a house out of my timbers for which you have not paid, is that yours by natural right too?)

    It’s interesting to note that Rand’s utopia, Galt’s Gulch, is politically a monarchy, with Midas Milligan (who owns all the land — and how did he manage that by natural right, eh?) as king. Funny how people who claim to be post-liberal-democratic always wind up being intensely pre-democratic.

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