Yesterday the Atlantic ran an article called “The Hole in Our Collective Memory” about the impact of copyright on middle-aged books. In short it’s not good. Publishers are hesitant to put up books for sale a few years after they come out and the sales drop off rapidly until you get to public domain, at which point they spike again big-time.
But, of course, changes to copyright law have been steadily expanding the period of time before a creative work enters the public domain.
Extended copyrights do not benefit artists. They benefit the occasional estate holder and they benefit large corporations who depend on franchise IP for continued profit.
We need to reopen the copyright debate – but not with a concentration on tightening restrictions on fair use, nor on smacking down those evil pirates.
No, we need to reopen debates like when work should enter the public domain. I tend toward the “no more than 20 years” camp. And I don’t mean 20 years from the death of the artist, I mean 20 years from date of publication / initial distribution.
20 years is plenty of time to make money from one work of art. After all, do we all aspire to have exactly one book in us? What do you think about copyright? Let me know in the comments.
I have re-examined my position since this article was posted and now lean more toward life+20 years than 20 years full stop. Sometimes we need to admit when we’re wrong and I think I was when I wrote this.