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The Woman Who Established Fair Use

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the one-of-a-kind dept.

Government 226

The Narrative Fallacy writes "The Washington Post has an interesting profile on Barbara A. Ringer, who joined the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in 1949 and spent 21 years drafting the legislation and lobbying Congress before the Copyright Act of 1976 was finally passed. Ringer wrote most of the bill herself. 'Barbara had personal and political skills that could meld together the contentious factions that threatened to tear apart every compromise in the 20 year road to passage of the 1976 Act,' wrote copyright lawyer William Patry. The act codified the fair use defense to copyright infringement. For the first time, scholars and reviewers could quote briefly from copyrighted works without having to pay fees. With the 1976 act that Ringer conceived, an author owned the copyright for his or her lifetime plus 50 years. Previously under the old 1909 law, an author owned the copyright for 28 years from the date of publication and unless the copyright was renewed, the work entered the public domain, and the author lost any right to royalties. Ringer received the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, the highest honor for a federal worker. Ringer remained active in copyright law for years, attending international conferences and filing briefs with the Supreme Court before her death earlier this year at age 83. 'Her contributions were monumental,' said Marybeth Peters, the Library of Congress's current register of copyrights. 'She blazed trails. She was a heroine.'"

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226 comments

Now I know who to blame (2, Funny)

Daengbo (523424) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725219)

Now I know who to blame for the demise of the public domain. It's all her fault! Get her! I've got my pitchfork. j/k

Re:Now I know who to blame (2, Interesting)

Gerzel (240421) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725685)

Her law as written wasn't too bad. Back then a lifetime +50 wasn't that bad; though I do think it is a bit much. I'd say lifetime or n years, where n is the average life span of the time and set n every 20 years, which ever is greater if you don't want to have to establish stricter registrations(to establish start dates).

Re:Now I know who to blame (5, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725851)

Can we attempt to put this into a little better perspective?

A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

Lifetime +50 might be a little to much, but I can live with it.

Lifetime +25 seems reasonable to me - even if the old goat's work is published the day he dies, his estate has a quarter CENTURY to make something of his work.

The problem is, WHO OWNS MOST COPYRIGHT TODAY?!?!?!

It isn't the old goat who wrote a book, a song, or a software. It's the CORPORATIONS!

And, what, precisely, is the lifetime of any given corporation? In effect, we have non-expiring copyright law today. Even if a corporation goes bankrupt, someone, somewhere BUYS their assets, becoming the new corporate owner of the copyright.

Time limits on copyright needs to be addressed all over again, bearing in mind that the vast bulk of copyrights are either created by corporations and/or their employees in the name of the corporation, OR bought by corporations.

Personally, I could justify limiting all copyright to 50 years, period.

Aside from that, fair use really needs to be defined quite clearly. Copyright law was NEVER intended to inhibit creativity and free expression. It's ONLY legitimate purpose is to prevent other people from plegiarising and/or profiting from an original work.

Re:Now I know who to blame (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725935)

Just wanted to say thanks for this post, because it seems most folks on the 'net seem to think that the artists own the copyright, and assume that "lifetime plus x years" apply when the author/artist dies. There are very few authors, musicians, etc., who actually own the copyright to their work. This scheme would have only worked back in the days of Charles Dickens, etc.

Re:Now I know who to blame (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725955)

Not quite accurate. Songwriters often own the copyright to the song just not he recorded performance.

Re:Now I know who to blame (5, Informative)

Kalten (20368) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725991)

The problem is, WHO OWNS MOST COPYRIGHT TODAY?!?!?!

It isn't the old goat who wrote a book, a song, or a software. It's the CORPORATIONS!

And, what, precisely, is the lifetime of any given corporation? In effect, we have non-expiring copyright law today. Even if a corporation goes bankrupt, someone, somewhere BUYS their assets, becoming the new corporate owner of the copyright.

Cornell University Law School is your friend when you want to find out about things like this--they have the U.S. Code available online.

In particular, 17 USC 302 [cornell.edu] is edifying. Copyright in works for hire persists for 95 years from first publication, or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first. If it's not a work for hire, then it's life of the author + 70 years. Older works (first published prior to 1978) are covered under different provisions.

Re:Now I know who to blame (4, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726613)

OK, I'll repeat. "In effect, we have non-expiring copyright law today."

A copyright on a corporate work goes into effect right now, tonight. How many people born tonight will live long enough to see that work go into the public domain? 95 years is a long time. My great-grandchildren may be dying of old age by that time!!

So, IN EFFECT, we have non-expiring copyright law.

Re:Now I know who to blame (2, Informative)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725995)

>A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors^Wother people in society

There, fixed that for you. Seriously, why should you be able (or want to) rest
on your laurels your whole life for the production of one item? If you make
enough money in publication date+X years and decide to be a lazy sod or
philanthropist, then so be it. But you, and the Nth-generation descendants
ought not continue to collect royalties and stymie the creativity of others
for what is effectively perpetuity i.e; the entire/majority lifespan of others.

Re:Now I know who to blame (1, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726587)

Well, the fact is, few works are worth millions and millions of dollars to an author. An author may reach the end of his productive career, and all of his works taken together may earn him a couple thousand dollars a month. He deserves that couple of thousand, IMO. More, if he dies a short time after publication, his estate should be entitled to something.

It is the rare author who earns so much on a single work (even if it is his last and greatest) that he could afford to retire on it, and live the life of leisure. Authors aren't exactly movie stars, after all.

Re:Now I know who to blame (5, Insightful)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726023)

A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

You don't seem to understand why we have copyright law. The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more. If he dies, that's over. If the heirs want to get rich on creations, let them write their own shit. And don't bother with the "pass on the family business" thing, because if a plumber wants to pass his business on to his son, he better teach him plumbing.

Re:Now I know who to blame (4, Interesting)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726219)

You make a good point, but I think you're being a little harsh. There are other assets that get passed on after death, like stocks and wealth and houses and boats. Why should copyright be any different? It's also no guarantee that the heirs will get rich--the vast majority of copyrighted works don't make much money, especially after the first few years.

I personally think that the 1909 law (28 years + renewal) was a much better length of time (though I am skeptical about the renewal), and that fair use should have simply been added to that law. If the unfortunate author would still have held copyright while living, it makes sense that his heirs would retain it until it expired, yet the strict time limit would keep pressure on a still-living author to create more works.

Re:Now I know who to blame (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726471)

There are other assets that get passed on after death, like stocks and wealth and houses and boats. Why should copyright be any different?

Well let's see. All the things you mention are MATERIAL THINGS. Copyright is not. You're damned right we should treat IDEAS different from MATERIAL GOODS.

Re:Now I know who to blame (3, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726221)

And don't bother with the "pass on the family business" thing, because if a plumber wants to pass his business on to his son, he better teach him plumbing.

If a plumber does a job and then dies before collecting payment, his heirs are entitled to the money. That's the reasoning behind extending copyright past the life of the author.

That being said, the current "life plus the number of years since Steamboat Willie was released" is insane.

Re:Now I know who to blame (1)

LoverOfJoy (820058) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726247)

So how do we encourage a dying creator to create more? Well, if the creator is concerned about his children's financial well-being then guaranteeing that the children can be taken care of for some time by the profits of his final Magnum Opus may encourage him to put the effort into creating it (and making it great enough to be profitable for some time).

Without the guarantee that those he love will profit from his efforts, why would a great creator spend his last few days, months, or two or three years before croaking creating more? He won't have time to spend it. In fact, he might not be able to find a publisher in time to even work with him. Why would people bother getting their dead relative's manuscript published (beyond honoring their name) if there's no profit in it (and possibly even a non-trivial amount of expenses)?

Re:Now I know who to blame (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726333)

The bit about their heirs is a good thing though. Why?

If we say 20 yrs or death, whichever is shorter, then we apply a pressure to encourage "risky behavior" that might result in death. Whoops. Public domain Bayyybe!
If we say 20 years flat, whatever is in the will is where it goes for the duration. It prevents that "Whoops" behavior I could see companies could encourage.

And yeah, the relatives could be real scousers. Doesnt matter.

Re:Now I know who to blame (4, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726483)

A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

You don't seem to understand why we have copyright law. The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more. If he dies, that's over. If the heirs want to get rich on creations, let them write their own shit. And don't bother with the "pass on the family business" thing, because if a plumber wants to pass his business on to his son, he better teach him plumbing.

And if an old dude keeps writing because he knows it will help his younger wife and children once he's gone, he's been suitably encouraged.

I wouldn't tie life to it at all. Just make it 50 years and be done. Or make it 15, $1 renewal for another 35.

Re:Now I know who to blame (1)

nametaken (610866) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726769)

The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more.

I'm confused. Isn't the point exactly to help enrich the creator, thus encouraging creation in the first place? There's less incentive to create if someone else will just profit from it freely... right?

Re:Now I know who to blame (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726105)

Lifetime +25 seems reasonable to me - even if the old goat's work is published the day he dies, his estate has a quarter CENTURY to make something of his work.

whats wrong with 28 years and renew by the original author, the estate gets 28 years if they publish the day he dies. The solution to your the who owns the copyright is to only allow the original author/claimant to renew the copyright. Additionally renewing copyright should require registration (very few things would be worth re-registration and so there wouldn't be the same problem with excess requests)

Re:Now I know who to blame (2, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726107)

Uh why not just make it "Y years from first publication" regardless of when the author dies?

And frankly, I think depending on the work, the term should be from 3 years (graphics hardware and printer drivers) to, say, seven, with no more than three renews, which require payment. But we can argue about the numbers.

Actually, I wouldn't mind if the term was indefinite, as long as you had to declare a value that you a) pay copyright taxes on and b) must sell for if offered by an organization that buys IP into the public domain. I don't like the idea of all the government revenue, but I do like the idea of not over-valuing IP. Also, there ought to be a grace period depending on industry for determining value.

Hmm.. On second thought.. I think I know what how to handle the revenue. The copyright tax should be somewhat different from a regular tax, in that it never hits the general fund. The copyright office itself should be an organization charged with buying works into the public domain, and they should spend 100% of the "copyright tax" money on that every year. It will be easy to figure out, since they would have a database of the buy-prices for everything.

The tax would begin after the Nth year (where N is some number that we will certainly argue about), and the office could take it's administrative costs out of the initial fees for the first issuance.

Re:Now I know who to blame (5, Informative)

somanyrobots (1334451) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726153)

You do know that life + 70 (the current term in the US, as of the 1998 Sonny Bono Act) only applies to the life of the original creator, right? It has no relevance to the lifetime of a corporation; even if the rights are transferred to a corporation, copyright still expires 70 years after the death of the original author.

For works that are created by corporations (i.e. works-for-hire), copyright lasts for 95 years after publication.

Not that I don't agree with you; copyright extension is awful, and I personally wish it were possible to revert copyright to 28+28 or even the original (1790 Copyright Act) term of 14 years + a 14 year renewal. But you should check your facts.

Re:Now I know who to blame (1)

TimTucker (982832) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726523)

A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

Why is it so unfair as compared to other fields of work? There nothing that would say the author can't demand a large up-front payment from a publisher or take out a larger insurance policy as a means of ensuring money for his heirs.

The AC Who Established Frost Posts (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725273)

legendary

Established in USC, not the law (3, Interesting)

QuessFan (621029) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725277)

IANAL As a law librarian, it's always my understanding the 4 fair uses tests were already well establish by a large body of case laws. The congress merely codify them into the United State Code explicitly. Of course, the congress could had choose other directions if they wanted to, but they didn't. I haven't read the article yet. I am sure she is instrumental in the codification of the case laws into statutory language, but don't oversell it.

Re:Established in USC, not the law (3, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725653)

So in return for a codification of Fair Use, we got lifetime plus 50 years.
Excuse me if I don't celebrate Ringer's monumental achievement.

I guess the European Union recently celebrated her ground breaking success by passing life + 70.
But shame on them for not going with their original plan and making it life + 95
http://news.google.com/news?um=1&ned=us&hl=en&q=european+union+copyright+70 [google.com]

Re:Established in USC, not the law (1, Insightful)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725869)

hey it's ok, only in the EU are we retarded enough to re-copyright stuff that had already fallen into public domain

No, a torrent is not "fair use". (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725285)

Anyone want to lay odds on the Slashdot group-think trying to mod this to oblivion?

Re:No, a torrent is not "fair use". (4, Informative)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725315)

what? people might mod down a snide strawman that contributes nothing to the discussion? Let me try!

"No, strangling a composer with a piano roll is not fair use"

wow this is fun!

Re:No, a torrent is not "fair use". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725961)

I'm afraid as AC i already patented methods of trolling involving being a strawman that contributes nothing to a discussion! .'. for the part of your text where you are demonstrating this, mainly paragraph 2, sentences 1 through 1:

"No, strangling a composer with a piano roll is not fair use"

I intend to sue you for 1...billion dollars!

cuz when your not sure if copyright law is fucked-up enough to sue somebody, just wait for the relevant patents to be applies!

So We Got... (5, Interesting)

akpoff (683177) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725287)

"fair use," a not clearly defined defense, meaning you get sued and have to prove you didn't infringe. Copyright holders got life + 50 years and no need to file.

Faust got a better deal.

Re:So We Got... (2, Interesting)

Comboman (895500) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725791)

At least we go something. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 gave copyright holders an extra 20 years, and we got nothing.

A "heroine"? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725303)

My heroes are rather the big bearded one for the GNU GPL and Lawrence Lessig for Creative Commons. The mess left by this "heroine" obviously needs to be cleaned up, without a flourishing public domain innovation is doomed. Life plus 50 years, come on...

Reguarding (5, Informative)

captnbmoore (911895) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725305)

Previously under the old 1909 law, an author owned the copyright for 28 years from
the date of publication and unless the copyright was renewed,
the work entered the public domain, and the author lost any right to royalties.

That seems a hell of a lot more fair than the in perpetuity that we have now.
We really should go back to that or life of the author or 20 years which ever comes later.

Re:Reguarding (5, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725525)

But you do understand that the copyright law's intent is to encourage the creation of new works. With life plus 50 years, there are untold numbers of authors dead only 10 or 20 years who might be willing to rise and take a crack at just one more novel.

Re:Reguarding (2, Insightful)

Dan541 (1032000) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725943)

Why should I work again if I can do it once and still get an income.

We need to look at the benefit of free information. Copyright is detrimental, after 10 years if everything became public domain we would have many books freely accessible online.

Re:Reguarding (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726117)

With life plus 50 years, there are untold numbers of authors dead only 10 or 20 years who might be willing to rise and take a crack at just one more novel.

It's been my experience that having experienced death puts a whole new perspective into an author's new works.

Re:Reguarding (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726121)

Yes, but if it's just life, then there is the very real incentive to simply kill the author. In my opinion, a set number of years after registration is better (with the default going to the public commons with an attribution and a date instead).

Re:Reguarding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726413)

That's not the law's only purpose. Copyright also serves to protect the artistic integrity of an artist's work - an import part of getting people to release work.

By having copyright extend past death, it allows an artist to create a work secure in the knowledge that it won't be corrupted by others.

As a great example, see "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Thanks to the length of copyright, the original Pride and Prejudice has had time to become cemented as the original. No one will confuse the corrupted version as anything other than what it is.

But if you shorten copyright, that loss of artistic integrity WILL kill people's desires to create works. Most artists don't create art for the money, they create art for the art's sake. Take away that safety to know that their art is protected, and there's no reason to create.

Copyright isn't just about money, it's also about protecting the work from being taken and abused by people who just want to rip off other people's art.

Re:Reguarding (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726651)

But you do understand that the copyright law's intent is to encourage the creation of new works. With life plus 50 years, there are untold numbers of authors dead only 10 or 20 years who might be willing to rise and take a crack at just one more novel.

And the reason the term was extended is that most of them are in Chicago where they have the highest voting turn out among the dead.
See? Your legislators do listen to the voters!

Re:Reguarding (5, Insightful)

Robert Plamondon (1516623) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725681)

The old 28 years + optional renewal was a brilliant system. Abandonware entered the public domain after 28 years. The vast bulk of copyrighted material is abanoned well before this. The tiny fraction of material that's still making money after 28 years could be renewed for another 28. Also, you don't have to hire detectives to find out when an obscure author died, just to figure out whether a work was in the public domain or not. The old system was better.

Re:Reguarding (4, Interesting)

Dan541 (1032000) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725949)

Copyright on software should be significantly lower because it becomes obsolete quicker so it needs to enter the public domain sooner for there to be any real benefit.

Re:Reguarding (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725993)

There needs to be a clause saying that the copyright cannot be renewed when the original artist is dead. Otherwise if I sell copyright to something to a company (or person) they can just renew it indefinitely, unless copyright was made non-transferable.

Re:Reguarding (1)

johannesg (664142) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726503)

There needs to be a clause saying that the copyright cannot be renewed when the original artist is dead. Otherwise if I sell copyright to something to a company (or person) they can just renew it indefinitely, unless copyright was made non-transferable.

But that would be great! As long as they pay for the privilege... This should be the way to attack this problem: everything under copyright, automatically, for 14 years, and then yearly payments to extend specific copyrights on a year-by-year basis. This way there is an automatic trade off between the value of the product under copyright and the length of its duration.

The advantages are that there is something in it for everyone: consumers, who see a much richer public domain; producers, who can keep profitable items under copyright forever (and the price should be high enough that this cannot be done at a whim); and the government, who gets a nice new source of income.

Obviously we need to decide whether the yearly payments should be constant or rising, and we would need a rule saying that once something enters public domain, it stays there (i.e. copyright cannot retroactively be bought back), but the whole idea appears massively appealing to me.

Re:Reguarding (1)

rodentia (102779) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726043)

Yes!

For the first time, scholars and reviewers could quote briefly from copyrighted works without having to pay fees.

Prior to 1909 these arrangements were not unregulated. Often the fees were often nominal or wholly foregone. These fees did not significantly impair the ability of authors to react for and against, or academics to cite, previous work.

Better yet, in fuller response to the ostensible value of *fair use*, a term of 7 years might be more efficacious.

Old vs New (1)

PingPongBoy (303994) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726055)

It's all about money? Fine. Then why not just let the market decide. Anything that is earning at least 2 or 3 standard deviations below the mean after an arbitrary number of years, 10 years is a good target, is automatically copyright-renewed for another 10. But there has to be provision for adequate supply relative to demand rather than prices being artificially raised by scarcity, that is, prices are based on costs of production, and copyright is based on volume sold rather than per unit pricing. As a result, even stuff that is free could be copyrighted as a sign of its impact.

The existing and even the old system seems to be a bit outmoded. Copying was a lot harder in the past so that was already a deterrent. Now, the opposite is happening. Not only is it easier to copy, but it's so much easier to create that good stuff is buried under the unending streams of average and mediocre. The

For vendors, the catch is that copyright would expire if they do not adequately market or make something available. Material that becomes obsolete should lose copyright quickly. Material that does not have price competitiveness would also lose copyright quickly but is that really a big loss?

The whole idea of copyrights will come to a technological head anyways. The algorithms and guidelines of creativity will become more understood, and computers will be creating very appealing works, but these algorithms will be available for everyone to use. So who has the copyright if independent computers generate the same output? Maybe for the sake of example someone can point out claims over snapshots of the Mandelbrot set?

Re:Reguarding (5, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725757)

We really should go back to that or life of the author or 20 years which ever comes later.

That would be a good start, but I'd argue that it's really too long.

The question is: What's the shortest term that would enable most creators to capture most of the potential income from their works? That's what it should be, and not much more.

The goal is to provide sufficient incentive to produce works, but get the works into the public domain as soon as possible. That's how copyright promotes progress.

Ya kiding right? (5, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725335)

The 1976 copyright act [wikipedia.org] was what got us into the mess we're in now. It was a huge power grab by the copyright owners. It extended the copyright term, retroactively, to the insane death + 50 years nonsense. It dropped the registration requirement (perhaps the biggest stupidest idea in copyright law ever). It extended both the scope of what was copyrightable and what was considered an exclusive right. Fair use was already common law, so claiming that the 1976 law established it is bullshit. It codified it, that's all. The only thing that the 1976 copyright law did was remotely good was that it clarified that transfer of copyright required a signed document.. something that wasn't actually clear before the law. But hey, Hilter made the trains run on time too.

Re:Ya kiding right? (3, Informative)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725485)

But hey, Hilter made the trains run on time too.

That was Mussolini. Hitler was the vegetarian painter.

Re:Ya kiding right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726103)

You seem to have missed that he was talking about Mr. Hilter, the National Bocialist candidate in the Minehead by-election.

Re:Ya kiding right? (4, Interesting)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725487)

Uh, dropping the registration requirement was a requirement of the Berne Convention. Also, I happen to agree with it. Why should individuals who don't have lots of money not be able to copyright a book they wrote? Oh no, only large corporations should be able to do that. If you ask me, the current system around registrations is fine (no registration means you can only claim for actual damages, having a registration causes punitive to come into play)

Re:Ya kiding right? (1, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725493)

There's definitely something wrong with a system that makes a scribble on a napkin in a bar be automatically copyrighted.

Re:Ya kiding right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27725541)

that depends entirely on quality of the napkin.

Re:Ya kiding right? (3, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725565)

Why should individuals who don't have lots of money not be able to copyright a book they wrote?

Red herring. Copyright registration was never difficult or expensive. You just had to mail one sample and a simple form to the Library of Congress. The main reason for the change was because the volume of stuff being sent in got to be unmanageable, mostly because corporations were registering everything. One example that was used in the Congressional debates was McDonald's sending a copy of every one of the paper tray covers they used.

no registration means you can only claim for actual damages, having a registration causes punitive to come into play

My understanding is that without registration you can't press a copyright infringement suit at all. That's not a big deal, though, it just means you send in the registration just before you file your suit.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

stinerman (812158) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725651)

The fix to copyrighting everything is to raise the bar from something minimally creative to a higher standard. Better yet, require no registration for a copyright of a few years, but require registration for something along the lines of 10-15 years.

Re:Ya kiding right? (2, Interesting)

stinerman (812158) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725599)

Why should individuals who don't have lots of money not be able to copyright a book they wrote?

Do you have any idea what it costs to register a copyright? $35.

If you can't pony up $35 to register the book that took you several months (if not years) to write, then well...I'm at a loss here. That's like turning down a job solely for the lack of casual Fridays. And if that scenario ever popped up, I'd think that any number of publishers would be willing to advance the guy $35.

Re:Ya kiding right? (4, Interesting)

EvanED (569694) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725663)

What about things less than a book though?

Take The Old New Thing, Raymond Chen's blog. He posts one or two posts each weekday. Should he have to register each of these? At $35/post, that's somewhere around $10,000/year. I don't see any ads on his blog, so I'm not sure he gets any income from it except from the book that's a compilation of entries. If he doesn't copyright each entry, can he copyright the whole blog? What does he send the copyright office for the entries he hasn't written?

What about entries to my personal blog? Or posts to /.? Do I leave them uncopyrighted?

I'm not saying that these challenges can't be overcome, but saying that "if you can't afford $35 to register a copyright" leaves a lot of challenges that you need to overcome before it's practical today.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

nathan.fulton (1160807) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726027)

If you find yourself writing something on /. and suddenly think "this is such a good idea I should copyright it," you should probably stop writing, collect your thoughts, and put your effort towards articulating that idea into a piece that can be critiqued in depth and seriously. You know, as opposed to posting it and waiting to see what the karma-seekers have to say about it.

To generalize: no, I don't think every little tiny thing you write should be copyrightable. Because I think that you should be writing for more altruistic reasons than profit motive -- especially on a blog or /. comment.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

KahabutDieDrake (1515139) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726077)

The blog raises some interesting questions. However, your posts to slashdot, and any other comment threads on any other site aren't, or should not be copywritten. The fact that you expect them to be is part of the root of the issue here today.

The bottom line is that if you have an idea that you have yet to capitalize on, you should probably keep it to yourself. That way you are free to move at your own speed, and get it to market in the way you envision. Posting your "creative" concept to a public forum pretty much voids the concept of copywrite.

Re:Ya kiding right? (2, Insightful)

asifyoucare (302582) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726095)

EvanED wrote "Take The Old New Thing, Raymond Chen's blog. He posts one or two posts each weekday. Should he have to register each of these? At $35/post ..."

That's why an X years plus optional renewal idea is better. Raymond would get automatic protection for (say) 20 years, and if he wanted more he'd have to register. He could do one registration for his entire blog, in the unlikely event that a blog was worth protecting after 20 years.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726143)

Why would you copyright things that arn't worth any money, if a book isn't going to make more than $35 who the hell is going to steal it?

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

xjimhb (234034) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725773)

$35 for a book? I wrote a book and (through not making the best choice of publishers) to date I have made less than $20 on it. Some people SPEND money to self-publish, and end up making less than they spent. Should we have to pay another $35 to register a copyright?

Or a short story. Some markets pay $10, $5, $1 for a story ... should we have to pay $35 to regi9ster a copyright? No way!

But I agree that the current term is too long ... way too long! Go back to the 28 years or something similar - perhaps the greater of 28 years or life of author. And maybe one FREE renewal, but only by the original author, no estates, trusts, corporate purchasers, or corporations claiming work-for-hire, all those just get the 28 years and that's it. PERIOD!

Would Disney really go bankrupt if Steamboat Willie dropped into the public domain?

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726013)

why tie in the life of the author, they can just keep renewing it, just make sure estates, trusts, etc, can't renew it when the original author is dead (ideally make it so that only the original author can renew it)

Re:Ya kiding right? (5, Interesting)

Selanit (192811) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725753)

If you ask me, the current system around registrations is fine (no registration means you can only claim for actual damages, having a registration causes punitive to come into play)

But it also has a major downside in the fact that it's not clear who owns what. Also, the lack of registration has extended copyright over basically everything. The grocery list I jotted down this afternoon is subject to copyright. Heck, this post is subject to copyright.

And it's not as if registration is an inherently bad idea. There are two issues to address with it -- the cost, and the difficulty of processing registrations. The last time we tried mandatory registration, the price was set by the government, and the processing had to be done by hand on paper. We can do better than that.

I would prefer mandatory registration similar to the way the domain name system works. Thus:

  1. The Copyright Office determines what information is needed for a copyright registration.
  2. The Copyright Office creates a database to track that information.
  3. The Copyright Office does not gather registration information itself. Instead, it accredits registrars to do so.
  4. The accredited copyright registrars compete with one another to offer the lowest prices and the most convenient service for registering copyrights.
  5. An author (or corporation) selects a registrar, pays whatever fee that registrar has settled on, and gives the registrar the required information.
  6. The registrar transmits the information to the Copyright Office, where it is logged in the database.

In this way, we get a definitive record of who owns which copyright, and exactly when the work was registered. Because the registrars are in competition with one another, we get cheap registration fees and convenient service. And by making registration mandatory once again, we have ensured that copyright is only applied in cases where the author wants it.

It's obviously not a perfect system. I imagine we'd probably have to deal with fraudulent or competing copyright registrations. But we already have those anyway.

A bigger concern would be whether or not the market for copyright registration services would be large enough to sustain itself. Copyright terms are very, very long. The lifetime of the author plus 70 years, or 95 years for corporately owned works. Say I'm the owner of H. K. Fessenscheimer & Daughters, Copyright Registrar. If one author registers a book, that's one sale. Then I don't get any more business from that author till they've created something new to copyright, which could take years, or might never happen.

So in order to generate enough business to sustain a strongly competitive registration market, we'd probably have to require renewal at shorter intervals. Say, a copyright registration lasts for five or ten years, and then you (or your estate) has to re-register. If you don't, then you get a grace period of maybe six months, and then the copyright expires and cannot be renewed.

Of course, large institutions which do a lot of copyright registrations (corporations, universities) would be free to establish in-house registrars which would handle all registrations and renewals for their own copyrights without involving a third party. Hell, they could even write their own software to do it. Amortized over time, their costs for registering and renewing copyrights would be extremely low.

I'm sure that the existing copyright holders will scream bloody murder at the idea. They worked really hard to get rid of registration. They wouldn't be happy to see it come back.

Also, we might not be able to do anything like this without violating the Berne Treaty. So perhaps it's just a fantasy. But I really wish we could.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

celle (906675) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726327)

"I would prefer mandatory registration similar to the way the domain name system works. Thus:"

You are kidding right?!! Let's look at the recent history of the dns registration system. Various forms of cybersquatting, registration stealing, improper registar behavior (ex. registering dns names from independent queries(intellectual theft)), questionable registar regulation (ex.registerfly finally lost accreditation after years of misbehavior, finally cracking down on registars preregistering domains from independent lookups), etc. It may work but I wouldn't want to depend something as long ranging and real life/physical as copyright on it. We're talking about registering a record in a computer database somewhere, the cost to register should be minimal if not free as a service and done by the government as an independent/regulatory entity its supposed to be.
        The term should be no longer that 20 years (or less, definitely not more) after publishing, death irrelevant, and afterwards its public domain. You know like the founding fathers intended, the primary goal of copyright is to enrich society by giving creators a monopoly for a limited period to make a profit at the expense of immediate disclosure to the public for reuse. The key words are limited period, even in the life of this country (233yrs) the 80 or so years of a current lifetime isn't all that limited a period.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726461)

The grocery list I jotted down this afternoon is subject to copyright.

While I agree with your sentiments, lists of items are not covered by copyright. Unless you like to add colorful commentary to your grocery lists, they are like lists of ingredients in a recipe and in the public domain.

Re:Ya kiding right? (3, Funny)

Selanit (192811) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726603)

I stand corrected! In future I shall be sure to write my grocery lists like cheap thrillers.

"This is a dark city. (Item: lightbulbs, 3, flourescent.) I was cleaning up from my last job (Item: Clorox; item: new scrubbie sponges; item: nitric acid) and contemplating what I'd have for dinner (Items: 5 steaks, 1 bottle steak sauce, a nice Cabernet Rosso, 1 bag potatoes, garlic, broccoli, rice) when I looked up and there she was: redheaded, green-eyed, a short compact frame and legs that went all the way down. (Item: Trojans, more Cabernet Rosso, maybe some flowers.) "Hi, gorgeous," I said. "You need anything at the grocery store?" She cocked her head prettily, and said "We're out of hand soap in the upstairs bathroom, there are only two cans of cat food left, and the kids need more pencils for school -- someone discovered our stash and reduced them all to stubs in the electric sharpener." Rinsing my hands, I asked "Are there any suspects in the case?" She glanced over her shoulder and said "The culprit, I believe, goes by the code name 'Junior.'" I nodded, checked my wallet, jotted a few notes, and headed for the door. "Well, I'll investigate, and if guilty this fiend shall be punished."

"Oh, you dashing fellow," she replied. "Don't forget the milk."

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

brit74 (831798) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725623)

Welcome to Slashdot - where you're either trying to abolish copyright or you're getting compared to Hitler. Has Godwin jumped the shark yet?

Re:Ya kiding right? (-1, Troll)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725699)

Welcome to Slashdot, where the libertarians want everything for free.

Re:Ya kiding right? (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725717)

Welcome to Slashdot, where the libertarians want everything for free.

If by "for free" you mean "free of legitimized violent force" then, yes, that is what libertarians want.

Re:Ya kiding right? (0)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725729)

Here's a quarter. Buy yourself a sense of humor.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726099)

here's a nickel. buy yourself an actual joke so we can use these senses of humor.

Re:Ya kiding right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726717)

No can do, jokes are registered now. We need $35.

Re:Ya kiding right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726439)

No those are anarchists. Libertarians want everything"free of legitimized violent force" except that used by the government to enforce private ownership of property.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726521)

Yeah, fair enough. I've been toying with the term "practical pacifism" for an ideology somewhere between anarchism and libertarianism. The only legitimate use of force is to stop or prevent the initiation of force.

Re:Ya kiding right? (3, Informative)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725789)

Welcome to Slashdot, where the libertarians want everything for free.

I wouldn't go that far, but I would say that both sides ignore the need for a good balance between the two extremes. On one side there is a group which want to charge for ever for something, even when they aren't maintaining the work and there is another group who wants everything for free. While there may some libertarians that a anti-property, there are certainly those that a pro-property.

The introductory text at wikipedia states: "Libertarianism is a term used by a broad spectrum[1] of political philosophies which seek to maximize individual liberty[2] and minimize or abolish the state.[3] There are a number of libertarian view points, ranging from anarchist to small government, and from anti-property to pro-property.".

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726031)

What if you just want sane copyright laws (like 28 years, with registered renewals available to the original author)

Re:Ya kiding right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726661)

Just because it's relatively better does not mean it is sane. Public domain is a good thing and should be encouraged. Sane is no copyright, but if we have too, 5 years tops.

Re:Ya kiding right? (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725829)

With regard to trains running on time, are you sure that you aren't referring to Mussolini? I'm not saying that he had any more success in that area than Hitler, but it is he with whom the phrase "made the trains run on time" is most closely associated.

Re:Ya kiding right? (2, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725881)

With regard to trains running on time, are you sure that you aren't referring to Mussolini? I'm not saying that he had any more success in that area than Hitler, but it is he with whom the phrase "made the trains run on time" is most closely associated.

Forget it, he's on a roll.

Marybeth Peters isn't a reliable source (2, Insightful)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725337)

said Marybeth Peters, the Library of Congress's current register of copyrights.

Unfortunately, considering what else Marybeth Peters has said about copyright to Congress, I really can't believe anything she says about anything anymore.

Coming up at 11, (0, Offtopic)

l00sr (266426) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725341)

Hitler: the man who made the trains run on time.

Re:Coming up at 11, (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725465)

I'm pretty sure that was Mussolini and thyme, respectively.

Re:Coming up at 11, (1)

Mr Thinly Sliced (73041) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726067)

Hitler made Mussolini run on thyme?

What a mad parallel universe this is. I shall now experience some of your earth "sex".

Re:Coming up at 11, (1)

Mr Thinly Sliced (73041) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726127)

Hmm on my planet the females must bare their breasts immediately when asked by I.T. professionals.

It does not seem to be the case here on this planet. I shall continue investigating after I have been "Booked" I believe is the term.

Re:Coming up at 11, (0, Offtopic)

unitron (5733) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725855)

It is actually Mussolini with whom the phrase "made the trains run on time" is most closely associated.

Another chapter (1)

mc1138 (718275) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725349)

In the fight between the holders of the copyrights, and the rest of us. I wonder what her thoughts on the DMCA would be.

Heroine? (3, Interesting)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725467)

Heroine? Seriously? Extending copyright to 50 years past death? Giving major copyright holdiers just about everything they wanted?

She should be scorned as the woman who betrayed the American People for the sake of the greed of lazy corporations.

Heroin Hero (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725531)

Heroine? Seriously? Extending copyright to 50 years past death? Giving major copyright holdiers just about everything they wanted?

You're right. They misspelled Heroin [wikipedia.org].

Berne Convention, Bah (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 4 years ago | (#27725521)

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that fair use is an old common law concept that was just (partially) codified in the 1976 Copyright Act. Putting that in the law was a good thing, but adopting the Berne Convention (life + 50 years, no registration) was not a good thing.

copyright is here to stay (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#27726253)

and any attempts by you faggots to make it go away will be countered by me. i hope you faggot bitches get nothing from the system for free. you faggot leeches don't deserve anything but a case of the aids.

Copyright (1)

mindcorrosive (1524455) | more than 4 years ago | (#27726767)

Copyright is one of those things that everybody on /. seem to have a strong opinion about. We've gone through this innumerable number of times, really. Time for me to take a shot at it, I guess..
The thing with the current copyright law (both in EU and USA, it seems), is that it needs to please both the public and the authors, with the latter currently having the upper hand. I'd suggest having a two-tier scheme, with a grace period of say 20 years since publication, for which the government guards the copyrights of a work. After that, the individual is required to pay a non-trivial annual fee (probably based on the declared income on the works -- IRS will definitely know how much that would be, and a with a hard lower limit), essentially a tax to the public, for extending the copyright further. This way, Walt Disney could afford probably to pay up say 5 or 10% anually of its income out of Mickey and Co., and still generate profit. For the 90's teen-band, long disbanded, well -- tough luck if you can't cough up the $1000 for extension.
Of course, everything here's just speculation, and the way to work is through your congress/parliament member. I know which Swedish party I'm voting for on the EU elections in June..
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