Poll: How long should copyrights last?


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(4 votes)
How long should a copyright term last before a published work becomes public domain?
7 years
22.4% (97 votes)
10 years
20.5% (89 votes)
25 years
18.2% (79 votes)
50 years
4.6% (20 votes)
Lifetime of author
18.2% (79 votes)
Lifetime of author + chance for heirs only to renew
6.9% (30 votes)
Lifetime + 50 if held by individual, 50 years for a corporation
6% (26 votes)
Lifetime +100 years
3.2% (14 votes)

After you vote, chime in on the comments with your thoughts on copyrights and why you voted the way you did.

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32 Comments

Laurent's picture

Question is wrongly asked. From an author perspective, some rights are perpetual, like the attribution. From a property perspective I believe an author should continue to earn money from his creation until he dies.

Problem is people tend to over simplify copyright

chad's picture

What is the `lifetime' of a corporate work, or a work-for-hire, or a collaboration among hundreds or thousands of authors?

Attribution rights don't help at all in the cases of counterfeit or `piracy' -- when someone sells you a substandard, illegal copy of a movie, album, or book, they *want* you to think the original author created it.

This isn't an academic problem -- it's been happening in ebooks, CDs, and DVDs for at least 10 years.

Shawn's picture

I had to choose "7 years" because you have no "5 years" option.

pchestek's picture
Open Minded

I like 25 years. Enough time that you can gain the substantial benefit of its exploitation and probably realize it during your lifetime, but not so long that it is archaic before others may reuse it.

Andrew Hamblin's picture

I think 10 years is plenty of time to realize a profit, and but prevents you from living forever on the results of a one hit wonder.

What @laurent said above though about attribution. If someone is making something derivative I'd like them to point back to my work.

Jeremiah C. Foster's picture

Copyright has been misused by corporations who have paid money to Congress in the form of contributions and lobbying to repeatedly extend the original copyright term.

A short period of copyright is reasonable. Longer periods merely create little monopolies and little despots trying to enforce them.

Maverick's picture

Right on the money.

Paul Menten's picture

Although it places an additional burden on some already overburdened people, perhaps the duration of the copyright should be proportional to the degree of novelty of the 'invention'.

A small tweak on an existing concept = 2 years.
A major new product or system = 15 years.
Cure cancer = 50 years.

Codex's picture

@Paul Menten, I think you are confusing copyright with patent, see http://www.lawmart.com/searches/difference.htm.

Jock Coats's picture

You offer no zero year option! The fact that you offer people a range to choose from shows that, as property goes, copyright is a fabricated concept. I can think of no other sort of property in which if you ask a group of people they think it acceptable to tell you you can only own something for a particular period and everyone has an arbitrarily different length of time and reason for suggesting it in mind.

If something, my car say, is my property, then it remains my property in perpetuity or until I choose when and how to dispose of it, give it away or leave it to someone as a bequest. Since nobody seems to suggest this perpetuity for copyright, it is clearly not the same thing as "property".

Johnti's picture

I feel that copyright should last for the life of the creator + 50 years but only a maximum of 20 Years for a Corporate but you did not have that option,,,
It's not the individual that's the problem with copyright He/She should get something for the ideas which we utilize the Corporate 'Mob' just exploit Us & each other for greedy gain,,, Sad but true.

Joshua's picture

I think 10 years is the right time. It gives the author enough time to profit from their work, but also allows other people to use their work before it gets too old for it to be of any use. Also I think that software should only have a 7 year copyright. Gives the companies long enough to make a profit, but would allow archivists the opportunity to back up and save the software for future generations.

Maverick's picture

I had to choose 7 years, but I think 5, or even less, should be more appropriate. I believe that span of time to be sufficient for the author/discoverer to make optimum profit (80/20), whereas maintaining exclusivity for too long is not incentive to innovation. If Caveman had copyrighted fire, where would we be now ?

Unidentified's picture

Copyright is not the same thing as physical property because it is exclusive. If you build a table, nothing stops me from building the exact same table. But if you write a song, I can't make money from, not just the exact same song, but anything that can be argued in court to resemble it in some way, even if I never heard your song in my life. In essence, it's locking something away from public use, and the trade-off for that exclusivity must be limitation.

When the Constitutional bit about "for a limited time" was observed (and "limited" did not mean "until after the grandchildren of anyone who might have so much as known the author have died of old age") and a 28-year copyright, renewable for another 28, was in effect, we saw the works of writers like Mark Twain and John Steinbeck; now, with effectively infinite copyright, where are our Twains and Steinbecks, our Poes and Emersons? There should, following the logic of copyright extension, be many times more of them than there were ... but there are not only five times as many, there are not even as many. Clearly, whatever motivates great writers, the ability of descendants they can never know to earn money from their writing is not it. And the descendants don't do it anyway; corporations do, to the benefit of their management and the detriment of the public.

28 years of copyright, with an equal extension available if the author was alive, worked well for generations. It will still work well. And Disney and their mouse can go hang.

D. Glassman's picture

There are not many great writers. Patent and copywrite laws must change. Now its 18 years for a patent and this may not be long enough for certain ideas. One thing is for sure...the infringement issue is a serious one.

TemporalBeing's picture

For some industries yes, for others 18 years is too long which is why the duration should really be linked with a regulated business plan instead so that the market can determine the life of the patent. Highly valuable patents will have a short life; low value patents will have a long life.

David Poor's picture

I think that the duration of copyrights should vary according to the content.

For major works of art including movies, books, paintings, photographs, the length should be 25-50 years.

Timely materials such as blogs, articles, and especially scholarly articles published in journals, should have a much shorter duration as it is important to get these into mainstream domain without - perhaps 5-10 years.

The ever-extending copyrights should be stopped.

ruxpin's picture

I basically agree with Laurent, but I think that a difference could be made based on the copyright contents.
The maximum time should be the lifetime of the author. Ever-extending copyright are to be stopped.
Hopefully this arguments will be made publicly available!

Brian McMinn's picture

Copyright isn't a one-size-fits-all issue. Copyrighted items can differ in value and in longevity. An exponentially increasing copyright fee would solve this. The first N years are free, the next N years cost a small amount and then the amount goes up by some ratio every N years. The author or his/her estate or the corporation holding the copyright could keep it in force for as long as it made business sense to keep paying the increasing fee.

John Amatulli's picture

The idea that the product of an individuals labor is their sole property, to do with as they please, is the foundation of Natural Law and the American experiment. It has been corrupted by misguided and failed ideologies that misrepresent forced appropriation of property (aka theft) as charity or part of a social contract.
Copyrights are a great example of this. If a person can not choose what to do with his own property the eventual result is serfdom. Many choose to give away their property and this is admirable and has its own rewards, but it should always be a choice. If you had a forever and for all coming generations choice in your poll I might have picked that.
People who try to force a concept of charity on others are creating tyranny. Like a Kings who tax their people for wars that may gain them power and wealth, they tell them it is for the greater good. In the end it will benefit those with power, be they kings or bureaucrats and though they may benefit the collective it will cost the individuals.
Should all the fruits of your labor be taken forcibly taken away? Will people be as inspired to create or innovate without the promise of financial reward? History has proven that these ideas fail time and time again. Collaboration give mutual benefits, and so I support the open source community because of those benefits. But don't try to take my property. What I choose to keep of my labor I will defend to the end.

Jeremiah C. Foster's picture

Firstly Johm, there is no such thing as "Natural Law" just as there is no such thing as "Divine Right of Kings".

In answer to your question about people being motivated to create and innovate, people like Dan Pink have discussed this: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html I think you'll find that people do not create or even innovate only for mere money, reputation is often a powerful motivator.

Finally, don't worry about anyone trying to take your property, especially when it comes to software. Your "secret sauce" or magical database is really uninteresting in the end, it is likely just an incremental improvement anyway on what are open standards and ISO specifications. Free Software enthusiasts prefer things like Postgres over Oracle and have no interest in stealing something inferior.

TAD's picture

Patents and copyrights sould be treated the same. Why is it that a written document out lives the physical object protected by a patent.

Robert's picture

I chose 50 years because the option "The shorter of lifetime + 25 years _or_ 50 years" was not available.

Does anyone else think it is ridiculous to still have copyrights on silent movies and other pre-Depression era books and recordings? And how does the Constitution justify putting public domain material BACK under copyright??? (Short answer: it doesn't.)

Codex's picture

@John Amatulli, @Jeremiah C. Foster, re: perpetual property rights vs. creative motivation;

You both have valid points, and dangerous generalizations. "Property" is the exclusive right of control of one entity over another. But like Newton's 3rd law, there are inherent limits. An owner may exercise their rights over the owned only when unchallenged, but it takes more than possession to establish ownership. Copyright and Patent law are attempts to regularize that trade-off, in light of the fact that unlike physical property that is finite, intellectual property can exist in infinite instances without loss of fidelity and/or cost. The value of an object is only accessible with the object: if you lose it, it ceases to be your property. The value of an idea, or of the unique expression of an idea, continues due to its omnipresence and fluidity of transfer. For this reason, force of law is needed to ensure that the author benefits sufficiently to justify the effort of creating it. But that law is a trade-off with the natural phenomenon of assimilation: once a an idea (or expression) has been around long enough, it becomes part of the common property shared by all, and individual property rights cease to be meaningful.

Think of it this way: if the caveman that invented the wheel had perpetual, enforceable right to the concept of the wheel, it is possible that only one entity in the world would have the right to make things that can roll. Where would that leave us?

mrdvt92's picture

I think the open source community is going to have a hard time with copyright once people start dying off. There are already many abandoned projects on the Internet that are no longer maintained but still have value.

I think open source software should be 5 years from the last release or touch from the author. The Internet is kind of like a self-storage unit. If you stop tending to it, you loose it.

TAD's picture

"You both have valid points, and dangerous generalizations. "Property" is the exclusive right of control of one entity over another." Interesting. Real life examples. My father had a patent for part of the Apollo project. It expired in 17 years but the concept/idea is still used. On the flip side a family history book written in the 1890's still has author protection on it (copyright by author and family and other publisher).

Explain why one expires in 17 years and the other is still protected over 100 years later.

Robert's picture

@mrdvt92: It is both incorrect and irrelevant that the open source community is going to have a hard time with copyright.

Here are the reasons:
First, the fact that it is open source prevents copyright problems as long as the receiver follows the licensing rules.

Second, the nature of open source allows a new person to alter the code which assigns the new person the new copyright as the author (except the original provisions are forcibly left intact in many copyright licenses).

Basically, once code is open-sourced, the copyright genie is out of the bottle - you cannot put it back in unless no one ever downloaded said source code.

So, no problem exists nor ever will exist in your scenario.

TAD's picture

It is when a corp picks up the document and reprints it. They just slap on a copyright and there you go.

Robert's picture

@TAD: I do not believe that a book written/published in the 1890's is still protected by copyright.

Digital Knight's picture

As a corporation is a non living entity that can span centuries, I would like to see them required to:

  1. Renew each copyrights every ten years.
  2. If a product is no longer published and available to purchase, it falls into the public domain:
    1. Five years after a published end of availabillity date.
    2. Or if no date is listed immediately.
  3. A maximum of five renewals are allowed for a corporation.
  4. A work transfered from a corporation to a individual will be under the same copyright structure and terms as if it were still licensed to a corporation.
  5. For the purpose of this definition, a LLC will be regarded the same as a corporation.

Individuals holding copyrights should have a different bar:

  1. Twenty years (unless the rights are sold to a corporation, in which case the corporation will receive either ten years, or the remainder of the term, whichever is less).
  2. Can be renewed for the individuals lifetime, or the lifetime of their significant other, + one more time of twenty five years, allowing any partners and their posterity to have support up to the age of full majority, and hopefully finish their education.
  3. There would be no publishing requirement for a individual as they might be actively looking for a publisher during some periods of that time.
TemporalBeing's picture

Well, I took 10 years b/c it's the closest to 14 years - what was originally mandated by US law, and has actually been shown to be the best length of time for copyrights.

D. Glassman's picture

Copyrites and Patents are basically the same idea. One are the ideas of inventions while the other are the ideas of writings, songs and trade. The idea that industry should regulate the time frame of each patent can not happen. I have 11 patents, with the exception of 1 they 4 -6 years to obtain approval. Copyrites are another issue since all it must do is be unique or only be used in a specific area or industry. We see sites such as Pirate Bay, Demonoid and others that handle torrents of copyrited material that just create another dimension to this problem. Many Patents are product specific meaning that the property only applies to that product. Others are generic in nature and can apply industry wide. Still other patents are design in nature and are less than 1 page. Examples of these...adding a Mickey Mouse image to a specific cell phone. These patents in my view are not patents but closer to a copywrite in nature. I agree that IP (intellectual property) should have time limits but in my view it should be based on the nature of the property. Congress and other nations are very lax in IP and its time we see real change. In my view there should be 4 or 5 levels of IP when it comes to patents. Very unique industry wide IP that will have a profound effect should have a time long enough for the inventor to make his "dues". Many people were truly screwed in the past over the brief period of patent times. Tesla and Farnsworth (the inventor of the TV) comes to mind. If we do not give inventors, writers and the like enough time to make an income from their work then we take away incentive. Coke decided not to file for a patent on their product and just keep it a trade secret which allows them to hold on to the secret as long as they can keep it. A hard thing to do. If we allow an inventor to hold on his or her patent in perpetuity then society can be held captive. Imagine if the patent on aspirin never expired? What must be created is some agency made up of government and industry leaders who can have the authority to add time to a patent and certain copyrites if needed. In some cases....limit the time as well. As for copyrited material 25 - 30 years is more than enough time. Now, this is not to say that still do not own the material anymore it just means that must allow others to use it commercially as well (to a degree). Example...if one wishes to play a song or read from a book to a small audience it should be allowed without issue. Playing music in a store should be fine after this time limit. NOW: if this music is to be part of a motion picture then some royalty formula should be applied. Copywrites are easy to obtain and far easier to exploit. The only copyrite that should be held without limits would be a company name.

In the end..unless you have created IP yourself one can not just state "it all should be free". Today the courts are filling up with cases in copyrite and IP infringement. Look at Android. Jobs loved it but what was not well researched was that Android violated a few Microsoft patents and in many cases many pay a 5 dollar royalty to Microsoft. Many of these patents were created by engineers who received 1000 to 1500 bucks, a plaque and maybe a thank you. Some might have obtained more stock options yet many patents do not have a real value until some years later when a process or code becomes used by a new device or application. A 21st century solution is needed and to ask a few people what the time frame should be is ignorant.