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The Woman Who Established Fair Use 226

Posted by kdawson
from the one-of-a-kind dept.
The Narrative Fallacy writes "The Washington Post has an interesting profile on Barbara A. Ringer, who joined the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in 1949 and spent 21 years drafting the legislation and lobbying Congress before the Copyright Act of 1976 was finally passed. Ringer wrote most of the bill herself. 'Barbara had personal and political skills that could meld together the contentious factions that threatened to tear apart every compromise in the 20 year road to passage of the 1976 Act,' wrote copyright lawyer William Patry. The act codified the fair use defense to copyright infringement. For the first time, scholars and reviewers could quote briefly from copyrighted works without having to pay fees. With the 1976 act that Ringer conceived, an author owned the copyright for his or her lifetime plus 50 years. Previously under the old 1909 law, an author owned the copyright for 28 years from the date of publication and unless the copyright was renewed, the work entered the public domain, and the author lost any right to royalties. Ringer received the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, the highest honor for a federal worker. Ringer remained active in copyright law for years, attending international conferences and filing briefs with the Supreme Court before her death earlier this year at age 83. 'Her contributions were monumental,' said Marybeth Peters, the Library of Congress's current register of copyrights. 'She blazed trails. She was a heroine.'"
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The Woman Who Established Fair Use

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  • Now I know who to blame for the demise of the public domain. It's all her fault! Get her! I've got my pitchfork. j/k

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gerzel (240421) *

      Her law as written wasn't too bad. Back then a lifetime +50 wasn't that bad; though I do think it is a bit much. I'd say lifetime or n years, where n is the average life span of the time and set n every 20 years, which ever is greater if you don't want to have to establish stricter registrations(to establish start dates).

      • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:46PM (#27725851) Homepage Journal

        Can we attempt to put this into a little better perspective?

        A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

        Lifetime +50 might be a little to much, but I can live with it.

        Lifetime +25 seems reasonable to me - even if the old goat's work is published the day he dies, his estate has a quarter CENTURY to make something of his work.

        The problem is, WHO OWNS MOST COPYRIGHT TODAY?!?!?!

        It isn't the old goat who wrote a book, a song, or a software. It's the CORPORATIONS!

        And, what, precisely, is the lifetime of any given corporation? In effect, we have non-expiring copyright law today. Even if a corporation goes bankrupt, someone, somewhere BUYS their assets, becoming the new corporate owner of the copyright.

        Time limits on copyright needs to be addressed all over again, bearing in mind that the vast bulk of copyrights are either created by corporations and/or their employees in the name of the corporation, OR bought by corporations.

        Personally, I could justify limiting all copyright to 50 years, period.

        Aside from that, fair use really needs to be defined quite clearly. Copyright law was NEVER intended to inhibit creativity and free expression. It's ONLY legitimate purpose is to prevent other people from plegiarising and/or profiting from an original work.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Just wanted to say thanks for this post, because it seems most folks on the 'net seem to think that the artists own the copyright, and assume that "lifetime plus x years" apply when the author/artist dies. There are very few authors, musicians, etc., who actually own the copyright to their work. This scheme would have only worked back in the days of Charles Dickens, etc.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Not quite accurate. Songwriters often own the copyright to the song just not he recorded performance.
          • by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday April 27, 2009 @06:55AM (#27728031)
            There are very few authors, musicians, etc., who actually own the copyright to their work.

            Wrong. Most writers certainly DO own the copyright to their work. Even journalists. The publisher has the right to publish it, and keeps most of the profit, but usually even those rights expire after the book goes out of print, or for journalists, a short time after the original publication (which is why columnists can publish books collecting or based on their columns).

            Just look at the copyright notices on a book: almost always it lists the author's name.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by ShieldW0lf (601553)

              The problem is what it always was.

              Society at large are bearing the burden of those creators. And if we're going to bear that burden, we should be able to maximize our return on investment by distributing the creations as far and wide as we can.

              Copyright destroys value. It's effect is to systematically remove access to knowledge and culture from the majority of people in the world.

              We need a different mechanism that doesn't destroy the value of the creation as a side effect of calculating the reward due for

        • by Kalten (20368) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:15PM (#27725991)

          The problem is, WHO OWNS MOST COPYRIGHT TODAY?!?!?!

          It isn't the old goat who wrote a book, a song, or a software. It's the CORPORATIONS!

          And, what, precisely, is the lifetime of any given corporation? In effect, we have non-expiring copyright law today. Even if a corporation goes bankrupt, someone, somewhere BUYS their assets, becoming the new corporate owner of the copyright.

          Cornell University Law School is your friend when you want to find out about things like this--they have the U.S. Code available online.

          In particular, 17 USC 302 [cornell.edu] is edifying. Copyright in works for hire persists for 95 years from first publication, or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first. If it's not a work for hire, then it's life of the author + 70 years. Older works (first published prior to 1978) are covered under different provisions.

          • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday April 27, 2009 @01:30AM (#27726613) Homepage Journal

            OK, I'll repeat. "In effect, we have non-expiring copyright law today."

            A copyright on a corporate work goes into effect right now, tonight. How many people born tonight will live long enough to see that work go into the public domain? 95 years is a long time. My great-grandchildren may be dying of old age by that time!!

            So, IN EFFECT, we have non-expiring copyright law.

            • But that's just a nonsense. The copyright on works expire every day. Yes, 95 years and all the various other copyright periods are a long time. Far longer then they should be in my opinion. But they are not "in effect... non-expiring".

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Rakarra (112805)

                When a copyright is retroactively extended every 20 years for an additional 20 years, they really do become "non-expiring."

              • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:20AM (#27728845)

                "But that's just a nonsense. The copyright on works expire every day."

                No, they don't. Not in some countries for a while now. Not when copyright is arbitrarily and retroactively extended beyond the expiry date that applied when the work was originally created. In the U.S., there won't be any new works entering the public domain (unless people explicitly put them there) until 2019 [wikipedia.org].

                How much do you want to bet that before 2019 some enterprising legislator will come up with some dubious reason for extending copyright terms yet again, and "stealing" another 20 years from the public domain?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by belg4mit (152620)

          >A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors^Wother people in society

          There, fixed that for you. Seriously, why should you be able (or want to) rest
          on your laurels your whole life for the production of one item? If you make
          enough money in publication date+X years and decide to be a lazy sod or
          philanthropist, then so be it. But you, and the Nth-generation descendants
          ought not continue to collect royalties and stymie the creativity of others
          for what is effectively perpetuity i.e; the entire/majority

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Runaway1956 (1322357)

            Well, the fact is, few works are worth millions and millions of dollars to an author. An author may reach the end of his productive career, and all of his works taken together may earn him a couple thousand dollars a month. He deserves that couple of thousand, IMO. More, if he dies a short time after publication, his estate should be entitled to something.

            It is the rare author who earns so much on a single work (even if it is his last and greatest) that he could afford to retire on it, and live the life

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Rakarra (112805)

              Well, the fact is, few works are worth millions and millions of dollars to an author. An author may reach the end of his productive career, and all of his works taken together may earn him a couple thousand dollars a month. He deserves that couple of thousand, IMO. More, if he dies a short time after publication, his estate should be entitled to something.

              Why? Why should the estate get anything from the public (copyright is, after all, justified (and justifiable) taking from the public) for years after the

        • by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:21PM (#27726023) Homepage

          A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

          You don't seem to understand why we have copyright law. The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more. If he dies, that's over. If the heirs want to get rich on creations, let them write their own shit. And don't bother with the "pass on the family business" thing, because if a plumber wants to pass his business on to his son, he better teach him plumbing.

          • by FiloEleven (602040) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:56PM (#27726219)

            You make a good point, but I think you're being a little harsh. There are other assets that get passed on after death, like stocks and wealth and houses and boats. Why should copyright be any different? It's also no guarantee that the heirs will get rich--the vast majority of copyrighted works don't make much money, especially after the first few years.

            I personally think that the 1909 law (28 years + renewal) was a much better length of time (though I am skeptical about the renewal), and that fair use should have simply been added to that law. If the unfortunate author would still have held copyright while living, it makes sense that his heirs would retain it until it expired, yet the strict time limit would keep pressure on a still-living author to create more works.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              There are other assets that get passed on after death, like stocks and wealth and houses and boats. Why should copyright be any different?

              Well let's see. All the things you mention are MATERIAL THINGS. Copyright is not. You're damned right we should treat IDEAS different from MATERIAL GOODS.

            • by ImaLamer (260199)

              I personally think that the 1909 law (28 years + renewal) was a much better length of time (though I am skeptical about the renewal)

              I think the good thing about the renewal is this: you'd only renew if it was worth it. If you weren't making money then you wouldn't bother and then it would enter the public domain. What could be good about this is that an author couldn't find 30 years after the work that it's on an upswing and cash in if it was never profitable before.

              Also, I'm guessing you'd have to be ALIVE

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Lord Bitman (95493)

                "only have to renew if it's worth it" is bullshit. The ONLY reason to have copyright last beyond ten years is for the case of people for whom what they have created isn't worth it, yet.

                Something like 10 years, non-renewable, starting from the time the work becomes generally available, might be sane. This means that someone who has been shopping around for a publisher for 10 years won't wake up one day to find that the first publisher to reject him has just started selling his book (in electronic form) at no

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by HungryHobo (1314109)

                  define "generally available".
                  If some college student working at one of the publishers he sends it to leaks it in a torrent has it been made "generally available"?
                  If he then sues that publisher and the draft becomes part of publicly available court records has it been made "generally available"?
                  What about changes between publications?
                  If at age 10 I write a short story and the teacher pins it on the classroom wall for everyone to read or it gets included in some student publication and at age 20 I decide to f

            • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:06AM (#27728741) Homepage Journal

              Copyright isn't and was never designed to be an asset of any kind. Art works are to be considered part of the public good, and to encourage their creation, we hold our breath and let the artists have temporary Copyright despite the stench.

              Copyright is to encourage the creation of public domain accessible works, which should be free to all within a reasonable time to enrich society and culture.

          • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:57PM (#27726221) Homepage Journal

            And don't bother with the "pass on the family business" thing, because if a plumber wants to pass his business on to his son, he better teach him plumbing.

            If a plumber does a job and then dies before collecting payment, his heirs are entitled to the money. That's the reasoning behind extending copyright past the life of the author.

            That being said, the current "life plus the number of years since Steamboat Willie was released" is insane.

          • So how do we encourage a dying creator to create more? Well, if the creator is concerned about his children's financial well-being then guaranteeing that the children can be taken care of for some time by the profits of his final Magnum Opus may encourage him to put the effort into creating it (and making it great enough to be profitable for some time).

            Without the guarantee that those he love will profit from his efforts, why would a great creator spend his last few days, months, or two or three years be
          • The bit about their heirs is a good thing though. Why?

            If we say 20 yrs or death, whichever is shorter, then we apply a pressure to encourage "risky behavior" that might result in death. Whoops. Public domain Bayyybe!
            If we say 20 years flat, whatever is in the will is where it goes for the duration. It prevents that "Whoops" behavior I could see companies could encourage.

            And yeah, the relatives could be real scousers. Doesnt matter.

          • by SydShamino (547793) on Monday April 27, 2009 @12:56AM (#27726483)

            A lifetime is generally unfair to a lot of authors - if the old dude wrote his greatest work only days, months, or two or three years before croaking, he and his estate make very little.

            You don't seem to understand why we have copyright law. The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more. If he dies, that's over. If the heirs want to get rich on creations, let them write their own shit. And don't bother with the "pass on the family business" thing, because if a plumber wants to pass his business on to his son, he better teach him plumbing.

            And if an old dude keeps writing because he knows it will help his younger wife and children once he's gone, he's been suitably encouraged.

            I wouldn't tie life to it at all. Just make it 50 years and be done. Or make it 15, $1 renewal for another 35.

          • by nametaken (610866)

            The purpose of copyright isn't to enrich the creator and his heirs, it's to encourage the creator to create more.

            I'm confused. Isn't the point exactly to help enrich the creator, thus encouraging creation in the first place? There's less incentive to create if someone else will just profit from it freely... right?

        • Lifetime +25 seems reasonable to me - even if the old goat's work is published the day he dies, his estate has a quarter CENTURY to make something of his work.

          whats wrong with 28 years and renew by the original author, the estate gets 28 years if they publish the day he dies. The solution to your the who owns the copyright is to only allow the original author/claimant to renew the copyright. Additionally renewing copyright should require registration (very few things would be worth re-registration and so there wouldn't be the same problem with excess requests)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by zippthorne (748122)

          Uh why not just make it "Y years from first publication" regardless of when the author dies?

          And frankly, I think depending on the work, the term should be from 3 years (graphics hardware and printer drivers) to, say, seven, with no more than three renews, which require payment. But we can argue about the numbers.

          Actually, I wouldn't mind if the term was indefinite, as long as you had to declare a value that you a) pay copyright taxes on and b) must sell for if offered by an organization that buys IP into t

        • by somanyrobots (1334451) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:47PM (#27726153)

          You do know that life + 70 (the current term in the US, as of the 1998 Sonny Bono Act) only applies to the life of the original creator, right? It has no relevance to the lifetime of a corporation; even if the rights are transferred to a corporation, copyright still expires 70 years after the death of the original author.

          For works that are created by corporations (i.e. works-for-hire), copyright lasts for 95 years after publication.

          Not that I don't agree with you; copyright extension is awful, and I personally wish it were possible to revert copyright to 28+28 or even the original (1790 Copyright Act) term of 14 years + a 14 year renewal. But you should check your facts.

        • by ockegheim (808089)
          An artist obtains copyright through talent and creativity. Corporations obtain copyright using money.

          Money can be fun and useful, but it's a substitute for the real thing.
        • Plus, any reasonably short copyright term tied to the author's lifetime is incentive to off the author. You really don't want that.

  • by QuessFan (621029) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @08:58PM (#27725277)
    IANAL As a law librarian, it's always my understanding the 4 fair uses tests were already well establish by a large body of case laws. The congress merely codify them into the United State Code explicitly. Of course, the congress could had choose other directions if they wanted to, but they didn't. I haven't read the article yet. I am sure she is instrumental in the codification of the case laws into statutory language, but don't oversell it.
  • So We Got... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by akpoff (683177) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:00PM (#27725287) Homepage

    "fair use," a not clearly defined defense, meaning you get sued and have to prove you didn't infringe. Copyright holders got life + 50 years and no need to file.

    Faust got a better deal.

  • A "heroine"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:06PM (#27725303)

    My heroes are rather the big bearded one for the GNU GPL and Lawrence Lessig for Creative Commons. The mess left by this "heroine" obviously needs to be cleaned up, without a flourishing public domain innovation is doomed. Life plus 50 years, come on...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ImaLamer (260199)

      I think you are confusing everything that has happened since her work with her work (Sonny Bono for example). She struck a balance and she should be applauded for that.

      I'm sorry - but we just can't refuse someone's right to protect their work. Even the name Linux is trademarked, most GPL code is in fact copyrighted - it's just given out under a unrestrictive license (so say we, not the GPL enemies).

      But this line; without a flourishing public domain innovation is doomed... shows some ignorance. If everything

  • Reguarding (Score:5, Informative)

    by captnbmoore (911895) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:06PM (#27725305)
    Previously under the old 1909 law, an author owned the copyright for 28 years from
    the date of publication and unless the copyright was renewed,
    the work entered the public domain, and the author lost any right to royalties.

    That seems a hell of a lot more fair than the in perpetuity that we have now.
    We really should go back to that or life of the author or 20 years which ever comes later.
    • by PPH (736903) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:46PM (#27725525)

      But you do understand that the copyright law's intent is to encourage the creation of new works. With life plus 50 years, there are untold numbers of authors dead only 10 or 20 years who might be willing to rise and take a crack at just one more novel.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dan541 (1032000)

        Why should I work again if I can do it once and still get an income.

        We need to look at the benefit of free information. Copyright is detrimental, after 10 years if everything became public domain we would have many books freely accessible online.

      • With life plus 50 years, there are untold numbers of authors dead only 10 or 20 years who might be willing to rise and take a crack at just one more novel.

        It's been my experience that having experienced death puts a whole new perspective into an author's new works.
      • Yes, but if it's just life, then there is the very real incentive to simply kill the author. In my opinion, a set number of years after registration is better (with the default going to the public commons with an attribution and a date instead).
        • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Monday April 27, 2009 @05:35AM (#27727669) Homepage

          Yes, but if it's just life, then there is the very real incentive to simply kill the author.

          Somebody suggested that in the future, Disney, movie studios and other big copyright holders will put authors into spacecraft that fly close to the speed of light, thus allowing hundreds of years on earth to pass while the author ages only a few minutes. Copyrights would then never expire. (I can't find the original website set up to draw attention to this looming problem.)

      • Or as I (sort of) said 7 years ago...

        P2P Killed Elvis [slashdot.org].

      • But you do understand that the copyright law's intent is to encourage the creation of new works. With life plus 50 years, there are untold numbers of authors dead only 10 or 20 years who might be willing to rise and take a crack at just one more novel.

        And the reason the term was extended is that most of them are in Chicago where they have the highest voting turn out among the dead.
        See? Your legislators do listen to the voters!

    • Re:Reguarding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Robert Plamondon (1516623) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:13PM (#27725681) Homepage
      The old 28 years + optional renewal was a brilliant system. Abandonware entered the public domain after 28 years. The vast bulk of copyrighted material is abanoned well before this. The tiny fraction of material that's still making money after 28 years could be renewed for another 28. Also, you don't have to hire detectives to find out when an obscure author died, just to figure out whether a work was in the public domain or not. The old system was better.
      • Re:Reguarding (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Dan541 (1032000) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @11:06PM (#27725949) Homepage

        Copyright on software should be significantly lower because it becomes obsolete quicker so it needs to enter the public domain sooner for there to be any real benefit.

      • There needs to be a clause saying that the copyright cannot be renewed when the original artist is dead. Otherwise if I sell copyright to something to a company (or person) they can just renew it indefinitely, unless copyright was made non-transferable.

        • by johannesg (664142)

          There needs to be a clause saying that the copyright cannot be renewed when the original artist is dead. Otherwise if I sell copyright to something to a company (or person) they can just renew it indefinitely, unless copyright was made non-transferable.

          But that would be great! As long as they pay for the privilege... This should be the way to attack this problem: everything under copyright, automatically, for 14 years, and then yearly payments to extend specific copyrights on a year-by-year basis. This way there is an automatic trade off between the value of the product under copyright and the length of its duration.

          The advantages are that there is something in it for everyone: consumers, who see a much richer public domain; producers, who can keep profit

      • by rodentia (102779)
        Yes!

        For the first time, scholars and reviewers could quote briefly from copyrighted works without having to pay fees.

        Prior to 1909 these arrangements were not unregulated. Often the fees were often nominal or wholly foregone. These fees did not significantly impair the ability of authors to react for and against, or academics to cite, previous work.

        Better yet, in fuller response to the ostensible value of *fair use*, a term of 7 years might be more efficacious.
      • It's all about money? Fine. Then why not just let the market decide. Anything that is earning at least 2 or 3 standard deviations below the mean after an arbitrary number of years, 10 years is a good target, is automatically copyright-renewed for another 10. But there has to be provision for adequate supply relative to demand rather than prices being artificially raised by scarcity, that is, prices are based on costs of production, and copyright is based on volume sold rather than per unit pricing. As a res

    • Re:Reguarding (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:26PM (#27725757) Homepage Journal

      We really should go back to that or life of the author or 20 years which ever comes later.

      That would be a good start, but I'd argue that it's really too long.

      The question is: What's the shortest term that would enable most creators to capture most of the potential income from their works? That's what it should be, and not much more.

      The goal is to provide sufficient incentive to produce works, but get the works into the public domain as soon as possible. That's how copyright promotes progress.

  • Ya kiding right? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:13PM (#27725335) Homepage Journal

    The 1976 copyright act [wikipedia.org] was what got us into the mess we're in now. It was a huge power grab by the copyright owners. It extended the copyright term, retroactively, to the insane death + 50 years nonsense. It dropped the registration requirement (perhaps the biggest stupidest idea in copyright law ever). It extended both the scope of what was copyrightable and what was considered an exclusive right. Fair use was already common law, so claiming that the 1976 law established it is bullshit. It codified it, that's all. The only thing that the 1976 copyright law did was remotely good was that it clarified that transfer of copyright required a signed document.. something that wasn't actually clear before the law. But hey, Hilter made the trains run on time too.

    • Re:Ya kiding right? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:39PM (#27725485)

      But hey, Hilter made the trains run on time too.

      That was Mussolini. Hitler was the vegetarian painter.

    • Re:Ya kiding right? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kalriath (849904) * on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:39PM (#27725487)

      Uh, dropping the registration requirement was a requirement of the Berne Convention. Also, I happen to agree with it. Why should individuals who don't have lots of money not be able to copyright a book they wrote? Oh no, only large corporations should be able to do that. If you ask me, the current system around registrations is fine (no registration means you can only claim for actual damages, having a registration causes punitive to come into play)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by QuantumG (50515) *

        There's definitely something wrong with a system that makes a scribble on a napkin in a bar be automatically copyrighted.

      • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:52PM (#27725565) Homepage Journal

        Why should individuals who don't have lots of money not be able to copyright a book they wrote?

        Red herring. Copyright registration was never difficult or expensive. You just had to mail one sample and a simple form to the Library of Congress. The main reason for the change was because the volume of stuff being sent in got to be unmanageable, mostly because corporations were registering everything. One example that was used in the Congressional debates was McDonald's sending a copy of every one of the paper tray covers they used.

        no registration means you can only claim for actual damages, having a registration causes punitive to come into play

        My understanding is that without registration you can't press a copyright infringement suit at all. That's not a big deal, though, it just means you send in the registration just before you file your suit.

        • by stinerman (812158)

          The fix to copyrighting everything is to raise the bar from something minimally creative to a higher standard. Better yet, require no registration for a copyright of a few years, but require registration for something along the lines of 10-15 years.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by stinerman (812158)

        Why should individuals who don't have lots of money not be able to copyright a book they wrote?

        Do you have any idea what it costs to register a copyright? $35.

        If you can't pony up $35 to register the book that took you several months (if not years) to write, then well...I'm at a loss here. That's like turning down a job solely for the lack of casual Fridays. And if that scenario ever popped up, I'd think that any number of publishers would be willing to advance the guy $35.

        • Re:Ya kiding right? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by EvanED (569694) <evaned@gmailPASCAL.com minus language> on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:09PM (#27725663)

          What about things less than a book though?

          Take The Old New Thing, Raymond Chen's blog. He posts one or two posts each weekday. Should he have to register each of these? At $35/post, that's somewhere around $10,000/year. I don't see any ads on his blog, so I'm not sure he gets any income from it except from the book that's a compilation of entries. If he doesn't copyright each entry, can he copyright the whole blog? What does he send the copyright office for the entries he hasn't written?

          What about entries to my personal blog? Or posts to /.? Do I leave them uncopyrighted?

          I'm not saying that these challenges can't be overcome, but saying that "if you can't afford $35 to register a copyright" leaves a lot of challenges that you need to overcome before it's practical today.

          • If you find yourself writing something on /. and suddenly think "this is such a good idea I should copyright it," you should probably stop writing, collect your thoughts, and put your effort towards articulating that idea into a piece that can be critiqued in depth and seriously. You know, as opposed to posting it and waiting to see what the karma-seekers have to say about it.

            To generalize: no, I don't think every little tiny thing you write should be copyrightable. Because I think that you should be w
            • by ImaLamer (260199)

              you should probably stop writing, collect your thoughts, and put your effort towards articulating that idea into a piece that can be critiqued in depth and seriously.

              I'm sure The Beatles were just going to play music and wait and see what the response was before they applied for protection. I'm pretty sure they protected themselves before they played one note publicly. And you are talking out of both sides of your mouth; "a piece that can be critiqued in depth and seriously" ... "posting it and waiting to s

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by asifyoucare (302582)

            EvanED wrote "Take The Old New Thing, Raymond Chen's blog. He posts one or two posts each weekday. Should he have to register each of these? At $35/post ..."

            That's why an X years plus optional renewal idea is better. Raymond would get automatic protection for (say) 20 years, and if he wanted more he'd have to register. He could do one registration for his entire blog, in the unlikely event that a blog was worth protecting after 20 years.

          • Why would you copyright things that arn't worth any money, if a book isn't going to make more than $35 who the hell is going to steal it?

        • by xjimhb (234034)

          $35 for a book? I wrote a book and (through not making the best choice of publishers) to date I have made less than $20 on it. Some people SPEND money to self-publish, and end up making less than they spent. Should we have to pay another $35 to register a copyright?

          Or a short story. Some markets pay $10, $5, $1 for a story ... should we have to pay $35 to regi9ster a copyright? No way!

          But I agree that the current term is too long ... way too long! Go back to the 28 years or something similar - perhaps the g

          • why tie in the life of the author, they can just keep renewing it, just make sure estates, trusts, etc, can't renew it when the original author is dead (ideally make it so that only the original author can renew it)

      • Re:Ya kiding right? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Selanit (192811) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:26PM (#27725753)

        If you ask me, the current system around registrations is fine (no registration means you can only claim for actual damages, having a registration causes punitive to come into play)

        But it also has a major downside in the fact that it's not clear who owns what. Also, the lack of registration has extended copyright over basically everything. The grocery list I jotted down this afternoon is subject to copyright. Heck, this post is subject to copyright.

        And it's not as if registration is an inherently bad idea. There are two issues to address with it -- the cost, and the difficulty of processing registrations. The last time we tried mandatory registration, the price was set by the government, and the processing had to be done by hand on paper. We can do better than that.

        I would prefer mandatory registration similar to the way the domain name system works. Thus:

        1. The Copyright Office determines what information is needed for a copyright registration.
        2. The Copyright Office creates a database to track that information.
        3. The Copyright Office does not gather registration information itself. Instead, it accredits registrars to do so.
        4. The accredited copyright registrars compete with one another to offer the lowest prices and the most convenient service for registering copyrights.
        5. An author (or corporation) selects a registrar, pays whatever fee that registrar has settled on, and gives the registrar the required information.
        6. The registrar transmits the information to the Copyright Office, where it is logged in the database.

        In this way, we get a definitive record of who owns which copyright, and exactly when the work was registered. Because the registrars are in competition with one another, we get cheap registration fees and convenient service. And by making registration mandatory once again, we have ensured that copyright is only applied in cases where the author wants it.

        It's obviously not a perfect system. I imagine we'd probably have to deal with fraudulent or competing copyright registrations. But we already have those anyway.

        A bigger concern would be whether or not the market for copyright registration services would be large enough to sustain itself. Copyright terms are very, very long. The lifetime of the author plus 70 years, or 95 years for corporately owned works. Say I'm the owner of H. K. Fessenscheimer & Daughters, Copyright Registrar. If one author registers a book, that's one sale. Then I don't get any more business from that author till they've created something new to copyright, which could take years, or might never happen.

        So in order to generate enough business to sustain a strongly competitive registration market, we'd probably have to require renewal at shorter intervals. Say, a copyright registration lasts for five or ten years, and then you (or your estate) has to re-register. If you don't, then you get a grace period of maybe six months, and then the copyright expires and cannot be renewed.

        Of course, large institutions which do a lot of copyright registrations (corporations, universities) would be free to establish in-house registrars which would handle all registrations and renewals for their own copyrights without involving a third party. Hell, they could even write their own software to do it. Amortized over time, their costs for registering and renewing copyrights would be extremely low.

        I'm sure that the existing copyright holders will scream bloody murder at the idea. They worked really hard to get rid of registration. They wouldn't be happy to see it come back.

        Also, we might not be able to do anything like this without violating the Berne Treaty. So perhaps it's just a fantasy. But I really wish we could.

        • The grocery list I jotted down this afternoon is subject to copyright.

          While I agree with your sentiments, lists of items are not covered by copyright. Unless you like to add colorful commentary to your grocery lists, they are like lists of ingredients in a recipe and in the public domain.

          • by Selanit (192811) on Monday April 27, 2009 @01:28AM (#27726603)

            I stand corrected! In future I shall be sure to write my grocery lists like cheap thrillers.

            "This is a dark city. (Item: lightbulbs, 3, flourescent.) I was cleaning up from my last job (Item: Clorox; item: new scrubbie sponges; item: nitric acid) and contemplating what I'd have for dinner (Items: 5 steaks, 1 bottle steak sauce, a nice Cabernet Rosso, 1 bag potatoes, garlic, broccoli, rice) when I looked up and there she was: redheaded, green-eyed, a short compact frame and legs that went all the way down. (Item: Trojans, more Cabernet Rosso, maybe some flowers.) "Hi, gorgeous," I said. "You need anything at the grocery store?" She cocked her head prettily, and said "We're out of hand soap in the upstairs bathroom, there are only two cans of cat food left, and the kids need more pencils for school -- someone discovered our stash and reduced them all to stubs in the electric sharpener." Rinsing my hands, I asked "Are there any suspects in the case?" She glanced over her shoulder and said "The culprit, I believe, goes by the code name 'Junior.'" I nodded, checked my wallet, jotted a few notes, and headed for the door. "Well, I'll investigate, and if guilty this fiend shall be punished."

            "Oh, you dashing fellow," she replied. "Don't forget the milk."

        • So in order to generate enough business to sustain a strongly competitive registration market, we'd probably have to require renewal at shorter intervals

          Renewal isn't just important in order to drum up business for registrars, it's important so that public and orphan works actually become usable by the public.

          However, even proposals like registering works for $1 every 10 years have been strongly opposed by publishers. Why? The current legal uncertainty means that they don't have to compete with orphan wor

    • by brit74 (831798)
      Welcome to Slashdot - where you're either trying to abolish copyright or you're getting compared to Hitler. Has Godwin jumped the shark yet?
      • by OrangeTide (124937) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @10:25PM (#27725751) Homepage Journal

        First one to mention Godwin's law loses the debate.

      • What if you just want sane copyright laws (like 28 years, with registered renewals available to the original author)

    • by unitron (5733)

      With regard to trains running on time, are you sure that you aren't referring to Mussolini? I'm not saying that he had any more success in that area than Hitler, but it is he with whom the phrase "made the trains run on time" is most closely associated.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by russotto (537200)

        With regard to trains running on time, are you sure that you aren't referring to Mussolini? I'm not saying that he had any more success in that area than Hitler, but it is he with whom the phrase "made the trains run on time" is most closely associated.

        Forget it, he's on a roll.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:13PM (#27725337)

    said Marybeth Peters, the Library of Congress's current register of copyrights.

    Unfortunately, considering what else Marybeth Peters has said about copyright to Congress, I really can't believe anything she says about anything anymore.

  • In the fight between the holders of the copyrights, and the rest of us. I wonder what her thoughts on the DMCA would be.
  • Heroine? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrMista_B (891430) on Sunday April 26, 2009 @09:35PM (#27725467)

    Heroine? Seriously? Extending copyright to 50 years past death? Giving major copyright holdiers just about everything they wanted?

    She should be scorned as the woman who betrayed the American People for the sake of the greed of lazy corporations.

    • Heroine? Seriously? Extending copyright to 50 years past death? Giving major copyright holdiers just about everything they wanted?

      You're right. They misspelled Heroin [wikipedia.org].

  • I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that fair use is an old common law concept that was just (partially) codified in the 1976 Copyright Act. Putting that in the law was a good thing, but adopting the Berne Convention (life + 50 years, no registration) was not a good thing.

  • bad deal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by speedtux (1307149) on Monday April 27, 2009 @02:19AM (#27726831)

    It seems to me that codifying fair use rights in return for lifetime+50 copyright terms and no requirement for explicit copyright registration was very bad deal.

    Without explicit copyright registration, the public domain becomes severely restricted, since the burden to prove that something is public domain is on the user--often an impossible burden.

    (I won't even go into why lifetime+50 is not justified either constitutionally or economically.)

  • I am shocked at Slashdot's headline for this post. The Washington Post's title "Force Behind Copyright" is much more appropriate. Anyone involved with bringing the 1976 Copyright Act into existence should be jailed, not commended. It is the most significant blow to Free Speech since the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, Barbara A. Ringer is a traitor, a modern day Benedict Arnold, for helping to draft this legislation.

    Long before 1976, Fair Use was recognised in common

  • To the copyright cartels perhaps, for granting them copyright far in excess of a lifetime.
    To me, it's a simple case of theft. I, along with everyone else, have ownership of the Public Domain. A significant part of this has been stolen (in the true sense; what should have been public is now still grasped firmly by corporations).
    What I find to be truly incomprehensible is that copyright used to be 14 years + 14 extension, in the days that it would take 20 years to have your work travel the world (and probab

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