I was in Spring Hill, Florida visiting my grandparents, who have all the family pictures of great grandparents and great-great grandparents. Doing the good familial thing, I decided to take the albums and scan the photos so that the rest of the family could see them. I only had one day to do this, and the only place near them was Wal-Mart (the Supercenter by highway 19). So I take the (sometimes) 100 year old photos to Wal-Mart and begin scanning them on their machine.
After a while, a Wal-Mart employee accosts me and tells me that I can't do that because those images are "Copyright to the studios that took them." I look down at my pictures. The picture she is pointing to is one of my great grandmother, taken about 1925. She has been dead since 1998. The photography studio (assuming it was taken by a studio) is not marked, and is long out of business, and the person who took the photo is long dead, as are, likely, his children and all of his business associates. The only known copy of the photo is the one I'm holding, which is owned by my grandparents, who gave it to me to copy.
In disbelief, I point out that the photo is almost 100 years old and the people are all dead. Undeterred, the Wal-Mart employee informs me that "Copyright lasts forever. It's the law." My scans up to that point are deleted and I'm free to leave the store with my old photos unscanned. I guess I should be thankful they didn't have a portable shredder on hand to seize my photos and do away with them right then and there. Is that in the next set of magic federal laws?
Some day, you may be the defendant in a criminal trial that turns on whether the software in a forensic device reached a reliable conclusion about a DNA test or other piece of evidence. Wouldn’t you like to have your own experts check the source code on that device?
An official New Zealand government bulletin on yesterday’s conclusion of the still-secret Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations accidentally confirmed something we all believed was in there all along: an extension of copyright terms to match the USA’s bizarre, evidence-free, century-plus terms.
Tim Harford, the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist, writes about the Happy Birthday to You court case, which finally settled the question of whether the familiar birthday song was still in copyright (it isn’t) and uses that as a springboard to ask the question: how long should copyright last?
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