October 07, 2002

In two days, Lawrence Lessig's challenge to Congress' 1998 copyright extension goes before the Supreme Court.

Good luck, Larry.

The arguments for the copyright extension that claim to be based on public good are pure noise, as far as I can tell. If you're arguing that corporations' rights to make as much money as possible is synonymous with the public good, then the status quo arguments are airtight. But not otherwise. Here are the arguments (as far as I can tell) that Congress and everyone who is not opposed to the copyright extension is making:

1. Without guaranteed intellectual property right, there won't be an incentive for companies to invest in content.

This is true to some extent, but 20 years is probably enough to make back even a massive investment, with plenty to spare. After 70 years (the current copyright term), things start stagnating. Why should Disney invest in new original characters (not ones lifted from public domain work) when they can keep milking Mickey? In this sense, limiting the term actually incentivizes creativity.

2. Congress can do whatever they want with copyright law.

This may or may not be true. But the fact that some people think that Lessig has even a tiny chance of winning means that we can't be totally sure that there isn't legal recourse in this particular case. I'm leaving out, of course, the fact that Congress is corrupt and undemocratic by design, but that's another story.

posted by dru in politicsoftech