Monday, September 29, 2014

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism; Pacific Standard, 9/29/14

Noah Berlatsky, Pacific Standard; How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism:
"Oliver Wendell Holmes is right—judges aren’t necessarily going to be experts on, or very thoughtful about, aesthetic issues. Courts have to consider aesthetics in copyright law, but the result is often going to be messy and painful and often even unjust. There isn’t any way out of that.
However, there is a change that could ameliorate the situation to some extent. Gone With the Wind was published in 1936. That means that it’s 78 years old. The first American copyright act of 1790 allowed for a copyright term of 14 years, which could be renewed for another 14-year term if the author was alive. If that original law was still in effect, Gone With the Wind would have gone out of copyright almost 50 years ago. For that matter, Star Wars, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Faulkner’s oeuvre, and Stephen King’s early books would all be out of copyright. If you wanted to do a parody or sequel to any of those, no court would have to rule on the aesthetic value of anything. It wouldn’t matter if a court believed Stephen King’s work was canonical, or if they thought Faulkner’s racial views deserved to be undermined and questioned. When a work is out of copyright, it’s aesthetic value, or lack thereof, is irrelevant. Whether it’s great or whether it’s awful, the work is fair game for parodists, remixers, piraters of cheap editions, and anyone else."

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