For the good of the public

By Lance Braud
Intellectual property should enter the public domain 28 years after it’s created. Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and “The Empire’s Strikes Back” are just two works of art that would have become public property this year if copyrights still expired in a reasonable time as they did before 1831. Unfortunately, since that time, corporations, using the very dollars you’ve paid them, have lobbied the government to extend copyright protection on these works of art to 70 years after the creator has died. Artists deserve compensation for their labor. In addition, they deserve a premium that recognizes the creative spark added to their work is not created by simple labor. And artists are rewarded: each time you buy a song, a movie ticket, a ringtone, a textbook, a burger-meal that features the latest cartoon on the cup. Each time a song is played on the radio, or a movie is rerun on late-night television, the artist is paid for it. We do not reward teachers on how many books or calculations their pupils perform over the pupil’s lifetime. We don’t reward engineers for every car that crosses the bridge they have designed. The monetary value we have placed on entertainment is disproportionate to the intellectual or cultural value we have received in return. To balance this, we should limit payments on royalties to 28 years after the work is created. It is not just a question of fair compensation, but also addresses ownership of artistic expression. After artists release their work, it no longer belongs just to them, but to the public also. Does the song “Happy Birthday to You” belong to Time-Warner, or does it belong to you and everyone who has celebrated your birthday with you since you were born? Does Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech belong to his heirs, or does it belong to those who heard it at the Lincoln Memorial, or to the millions it has inspired since he has delivered it? Your favorite songs right now occupy a place in your heart. They will continue to do so for as long as you live. Radio stations count on this by delivering commercials in between every generation’s favorite songs–the classic rock station, the 80’s station, and that AM station that still only plays songs from the 50’s. All those songs, all those artistic creations, belong to the generation of people who grew up with them. For the public good, for fair compensation, and to lessen the wretched feeling of betrayal you’re going to experience 20 years from now when Burger King uses your favorite song to sell you hamburgers; we should return to the old copyright limit of 28 years.

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