The business/markets case for limits to copyright


You'll remember Derek Khanna as the Republican House staffer who got fired for writing a paper that used careful objective research to argue for scaling back copyright. Now, Khanna is a volunteer fellow at R Street, where he's expanded on his early work with a paper called Guarding Against Abuse: Restoring Constitutional Copyright [PDF], which tackles the question of copyright terms from a market-economics approach, citing everyone from Hayek to Posner to the American Conservative Union.

There are lots of critiques of copyright term and scope from the left, but this is not a left-right issue. Khanna is a rigorous thinker, a clear writer, and someone who shows that whether you're coming at the question from a business/markets perspective or one of free speech and social benefit, limits on copyright make objective sense.

Khanna recommends new copyright policy based on a House Republican Study Committee proposal in 2012. Under this proposal, there would be a free 12-year copyright term for all new works. Following that, there could be an elective 12-year renewal, at a cost of 1 percent of all U.S. revenue from the first 12 years. There would then be two elective 6-year renewals, at a cost of 3 percent and 5 percent of revenue, respectively. There is one final elective 10-year renewal period at a cost of 10 percent of all overall revenue, minus fees paid for the previous renewals. This proposal would terminate all copyright protection after 46 years.

Conversely, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is examining terms that would commit the United States to the current regime of life of the author plus 70 years, with some even proposing to extend the term to match Mexico’s term of life of the author plus 100 years. Signing such a treaty would make it nearly impossible for Congress to ever consider implementing reforms that are more consistent with the founders’ intent.

“The public domain of the future cannot be protected with constraints on prospective copyright duration – otherwise it will not exist,” said Khanna.

R Street paper calls for shortened copyright terms and examination of international treaties (Thanks, Derek!)

Notable Replies

  1. Good ideas can come from any party. It's good copyright policy that matters and copyright policy, which in this country right now, is dictated by our publishing and recording industries via Congress through a combination of revolving door hiring, political contributions, prolonging the time limit of works that should have entered the public domain long ago.

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  2. This might be one of those strange cases where business cuts off their nose to spite their face - and knowingly. The WalMart heirs lobby fiercely for cuts in food stamps, for example, despite the fact they're a huge portion of their corporate revenues. Likewise, free copying of music has been shown to boost sales, yet the RIAA keeps suing fans.

    Sometimes helping yourself isn't as satisfying as hurting others.

  3. This is the clearest, most succinct example which proves copyright law is fucked:

    MLK didn't write it for profit, he wrote it to motivate Congress and the American public. He made fair use of other works and if there had been a CC license, he surely would have used it. But corporations rule the US now, and we're all poorer for it.

  4. Good god I agree with a Republican.

  5. I'm a republican, inasmuch as I'm for the removal, and possible beheading, of royalty.

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