[LINK] optimal copyright term
cas at taz.net.au
Sat Jul 14 10:58:20 EST 2007
It's easy enough to find out how long copyrights last, but much harder
to decide how long they should last - but that didn't stop Cambridge
University PhD candidate Rufus Pollock from using economics formulas
to answer the question. In a newly-released paper, Pollock pegs the
"optimal level for copyright" at only 14 years.
Pollock's work is based on the promise that the optimal level of
copyright drops as the costs of producing creative work go down. As it
has grown simpler to print books, record music, and edit films using
new digital tools, the production and reproduction costs for creative
work in have dropped substantially, but actual copyright law has only
According to Pollock's calculations (and his paper is full of
calculations), this is exactly the opposite result that one would expect
from a rational copyright system. Of course, there's no guarantee that
copyright law has anything to do with rationality; as Pollock puts it,
"the level of protection is not usually determined by a benevolent and
rational policy-maker but rather by lobbying." The predictable result
has been a steady increase in the period of copyright protection during
the twentieth century.
Because Pollock's "optimal level for copyright" falls over time (as
production and reproduction costs fall), policy makers need to be
especially careful when contemplating increased copyright terms. It's
difficult to scale back rights that have once been granted, so "it is
prudent for policy-makers to err on the low side rather than the high
side when setting the strength of copyright."
Neither the US nor the UK are in any danger of rethinking copyright law
from scratch, but if they were looking for guidance in how to set up
their systems, Pollock has it. He develops a set of equations focused
specifically on the length of copyright and uses as much empirical data
as possible to crunch the numbers. The result? An optimal copyright
term of 14 years, which is designed to encourage the best balance of
incentive to create new work and social welfare that comes from having
work enter the public domain (where it often inspires new creative
Pollock has been an advocate for restricted copyright terms and stronger
public domain for years; we earlier spotlighted a brief essay of his on
the "Value of the Public Domain" that is well worth a read. His new
work is getting some publicity too: it has already been highlighted by
Boing Boing and will be presented at a conference in Berlin this week.
craig sanders <cas at taz.net.au>
"Who knows the origin of religion? Certainly not the one who
believes in it. Understanding and belief are quite antagonistic.
The man who understands religion does not believe in it, the
man who believes in it does not understand it."
[Chapman Cohen, "Essays in Freethinking"]
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