What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of a Longer Copyright Validity Period?

By Terry Masters

A copyright is an intellectual, rather than a personal, property right. It is a right in something creative that has been envisioned by the mind and committed to tangible form. Although the law recognizes a creator's authorship of an original work, the rights underlying the ownership in the work are not analogous to the ownership rights in an item of personal property, like a car. Perpetual ownership of works of the mind have a different impact on society than perpetual ownership of items of personal property, so there is always a robust argument for and against increasing the copyright validity period when the federal copyright laws come up for review. One side of the argument wants to protect the interests of creators and the other wants to protect the interests of society as a whole.

A copyright is an intellectual, rather than a personal, property right. It is a right in something creative that has been envisioned by the mind and committed to tangible form. Although the law recognizes a creator's authorship of an original work, the rights underlying the ownership in the work are not analogous to the ownership rights in an item of personal property, like a car. Perpetual ownership of works of the mind have a different impact on society than perpetual ownership of items of personal property, so there is always a robust argument for and against increasing the copyright validity period when the federal copyright laws come up for review. One side of the argument wants to protect the interests of creators and the other wants to protect the interests of society as a whole.

Fair Compensation

A longer copyright validity period ensures that creators receive fair compensation for their original creations. In the United States, as of 2012, the copyright validity period is set at the lifespan of the creator plus an additional 70 years. This ensures that the original creator has time to profit from the creation and also ensures that his heirs can profit instead if he dies early or if the work does not become profitable until some time in the future.

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Promotes Creativity

Knowing that an original work will be copyrighted for a longer period of time, giving the creator more of a chance to profit from the work, encourages creativity. There is a risk inherent in creating new works rather than following an existing paradigm. For example, a longer copyright term encourages playwrights to create new plays, rather than continuing to perform plays that already exist, based on the possibility of making a significantly larger amount of money on something of the creator's own authorship.

Stifles Creativity

Conversely, a longer copyright validity period also tends to stifle creativity. Works of the mind are nonrivalrous, meaning that ownership of the work creates a monopoly that is extremely difficult to maintain. A person who owns a car cannot prevent another person from buying the same or a similar car. A copyright, on the other hand, purports to prevent people from creating derivative works or expanding on a creative idea for a length of time so the creator can profit. That is a hard thing to do in practice, because once a person's mind absorbs the creation, there is no effective way to remove that knowledge from a person's thinking. A longer copyright period becomes unsustainable because it creates an artificial barrier to what the human brain does naturally: expound, innovate, create and re-create.

Burden on Society

Allowing longer copyright validity periods places an extraordinary burden on society. Having to obtain permission to use works of the mind affects the arts, education and innovation. While this burden is reasonable for the time it takes to fairly compensate the creator, there is a line beyond which copyright protection burdens society more than it benefits creators. For example, if the works of Shakespeare were still under copyright, the effect on schools, arts organizations and other creators who have used Shakespeare's works as the basis for a new work would be staggering. The heirs of that legendary author would benefit but society would have lost an immeasurable treasure trove of derivative creativity.

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Copyright Laws for Out of Print Books

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Does a Copyright Protect an Author's Creative Idea?

Copyright laws give authors and other creators property rights for their works of original authorship, including the rights to reproduce, distribute, and display their works. One of the fundamental principles of copyright law is that a copyright protects expressions but not creative ideas. Although this basic rule seems straightforward, it may be difficult to apply in some cases.

Copyright Rules & Time Limits

U.S. federal laws provide the basis for copyright rules and time limits. The general purpose of copyright law is to encourage and protect artistic and literary creativity by giving artists and authors legal protection over their creations. However, because the general public also has an interest in acquiring the right to use those creations, copyrights do not exist in perpetuity.

How Is Copyright Intangible?

A person may own three kinds of property: real property, such as land or buildings; tangible property, including anything that can be touched but is not permanently attached to land; and intangible property, which can be owned and has value but cannot be touched, such as goodwill and customer loyalty. Copyright is an intangible property interest held by creators of artistic works.

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