Friday, March 6, 2009

Lawrence Lessig Answers Your Questions on Copyright, Corruption, and Congress, The New York Times Freakonomics Blog, 3/2/09

Via The New York Times Freakonomics Blog: Lawrence Lessig Answers Your Questions on Copyright, Corruption, and Congress:

"Last week we solicited your questions for Stanford Law School Professor (and open-source hero, and anti-corruption leader) Lawrence Lessig. (Past Q&A’s can be found here.)...

Q: Do you find any proposed “optimum copyright” period plausible? If so, which one, and which arguments did you find persuasive?– Nat Howard

A: There are two different issues with copyright terms: first, how long should they be? Second, should they ever be extended? The answer to the second question is, as Milton Friedman put it, a “no brainer”: “No. Never.” Copyright is about creating incentives. You can’t create incentives backward. Even the United States Congress can’t order George Gershwin to create anything more. His creativity is over — however sad that may be.

The answer to the first question is harder. The term should be as long as it needs to be to create the incentives to create, but not longer. And the obvious point is that at some point, the promise of future benefits adds essentially nothing to present incentives to create. Economists who have estimated the matter have calculated between 14 and 28 years as an optimal copyright term. I’d be happy even to get it down to 50.

Finally, regardless of the length, the one huge mistake we’ve made is to give up any system to require copyright owners to take steps to maintain their copyright. The result is, after a relatively short time, it is practically impossible to identify the owner of a vast majority of copyrighted work. Our framers insisted on formalities as a condition to getting copyright protection. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would require that after an initial term of automatic protection, a copyright owner would be required to take steps to register or maintain clear title to his or her copyrighted works, after, say, 14 years.

(And to the copyright mavens out there, this requirement would apply to domestic works only, so there’s no “Berne problem.”)"

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