Just to make it clear, I’m going to say that there is some merit behind some copyright. A way to ensure a return on effort spent to produce the piece of work. That being said, it should not be the same right for every piece produced.
I don’t really need any sort of scientific survey to look into part of this. Most copyrighted material is absolutely worthless. However, is it afforded the same protection as a major blockbuster movie, for free. Depending on how I structure the copyright of this blog, it has the same protection as Transformers 3. Why? To me this doesn’t make any sense. Which is why I’ve decided to license my blog with a creative commons license. You can see it down at the bottom. However, I still got that copyright with no effort for myself. I have to do nothing to keep that copyright.
The arts, sciences and technologies have had a strong interaction on each other throughout human history. We can see this with how our arts are pushing our technological limits. Video games push the limits of personal computers, recording studios push the limits of audio equipment and flawless video push the limits of TV and cameras. However, for any piece of art that was created on any of these technologies, they are afforded much more protection than the technology. The art also gains this protection for free, without any effort, whereas the technology has to go through a great deal of work to prove its worthy of the protection.
As much as I would like to remove the auto guarantee of state protection on a work, I don’t think that’s feasible. However, I do think what is feasible and realistic is implementing a registration requirement for works older than a year old. This minimum level of effort demonstrates, at least to the owner, there is value in the copyright. If the content creator fails in this, the work should fall into the public domain. Thus freeing the vast majority of our culture from copyright.
In the patent system there is a minimum cost for renewing the protection each year, which is considered the minimum value of a patent. This scale is graduated so that the the longer you want the protection the more expensive it is. For most firms this isn’t really that much money. I think we need to add something like this for copyright. However, our current copyright length is extremely long. Which brings us to another point, after 20 years, which is the maximum allowable protection length for a technical discovery, the yearly rates should be exorbitant. In the last 10 years the copyright should cost more than $1,000,000 per year to manage. There will be firms that are willing to pay it, but it will be a difficult choice. Because it would be for every single copyright. This would quickly reduce the numbers of items within copyright protection.
I also think that there should be a payment difference for levels of protection. So this goes a bit to the different types of creative commons licenses out there. However, I think the most basic cheapest level of protection is required source acknowledgement if remixed, and the right to license out the work. Anything more than that would be extra money. So, if you didn’t want it remixed for profit you would have to pay a significant amount of money more. Again, this is per copyright. There wouldn’t be any blocks for works on a CD as each song can be sold separately, which would require a separate registration.
I think with a system such as this we would quickly understand what the true value of a copyright actually is. At this point we have an artificially high valuation of copyrighted material based upon an extremely small subset of copyrighted material. From my previous post on the value of patents, we saw that most patents were barely able to cover the value of owning the patent. Additionally, most wouldn’t cover the cost of litigation.
We need to come to accept that most of our art at some point becomes economically worthless, if it ever was. That’s not to say it’s not emotionally full of worth, however, we can only truly understand that value when we have easy open access to it.
Free Culture Lawrence Lessig: http://www.manybooks.net/titles/lessiglother04free_culture.html (Free ebook)