Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Decline of the Public Domain

Posted by Beachcombing

***Dedicated to Dr Ricardo R***

Beachcombing, like many aging ideologues, can no longer bring himself to care about things that used to give his teenage self heartburn. But, there are a few exceptions – identity cards, Brussels delenda est, reptile road-crossing tunnels… – that buzz him into life. Not least among these and particularly associated in his mind with this blog is his rabid enthusiasm for the public domain: the wonderful meadows of books, music and increasingly films that have fallen out of copyright and that thus belong to no one and so to everyone.

In the past the fact that Virginia Woolf or Charles Darwin or Basil Rathbone in the Scarlet Claw had slipped out of copyright affected very few people. At best it would allow cheaper producers to put marginally cheaper products on the market. But now with the internet it means that you can watch a film or read a book for free.
Two things get in the way of this revolution. The first, is the incompetence of Google with their own digital shenanigans: something that Beachcombing raved about on these pages on a rainy Sunday what seems like a year ago. And second there are the attempts on the part of the state (here, there and everywhere) to tighten or lengthen copyright laws.

Beachcombing should say here that he is no enemy of copyright laws per se: he lives in a house paid for in large part by these things – at least the kitchen, the tortoise enclosure and the downstairs toilet with its rusty filing cabinets. He loves the notion of private property and recently started a fire with split-spine copy of Das Kapital written in an unidentified Slavic language. But he has despaired at the way that ‘the industry’ in the US and the EU in Europe have pushed reasonable limits into unreasonable ones.

The greatest catastrophe here was the decision by the EU in the late 1990s to have a uniform copyright law rather than allowing individual countries to follow their own laws: typical Neo-Gaullist nonsense. And not only to have a single copyright law but to borrow the worst of the lot, Germany’s with its seventy-year-after-death limit! The irony of this was that Germany rarely enforced its copyright law: a relict from the First World War when there had been a misguided but understandable attempt to protect the families of authors killed in that conflict. The result of this new uniformity, that is now enforced, is, instead, that in some cases books written in 1850 are still in copyright in 2012! Insanity…

There are far more sensible solutions: one would be an automatic ten-year copyright that can be renewed up to six or seven times, each time for a decade, by the author rather than the publishing house. For those authors who earned money – very few – and needed the money, they, and their families, would be protected. Most though would just let copyright fall away after ten or twenty years. The state could even lick its tax-consuming lips and charge authors ten dollars to reassert their claim.

But this is not going to happen and Beachcombing wants to recommend the following post to his readers and passing google spiders as the best practical way forward. Beach particularly liked point five: and dreams of giving his writings as a dubious present to the world on his death bed.

If anyone has any other reflection, or disagrees by all means scribble a rapid reply and it will be posted: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Tomorrow back to history and bizarreness!

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