Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Copyright: How long is long enough?

Last week there was a ruling in Australia on what Men At Work get to pay out for having copied a riff from an Australian folk tune published over 70 years ago...  It's actually a folk tune that I learned i school when I was a kid and I have to say I've never even thought about the similarity to 'Down Under'.

It's an interesting reminder though of what it means to have copyright terms that stretch long after an author or artists lifetime.  The band clearly made a fair bit of money from their hit - and now have to take a 5% cut from their royalties to pay... well who exactly?  

The value for society in copyright lies in the ability to stimulate creativity by giving limited monopoly rights to creators.  But here we see that the active creators, the band, are penalised to the benefit of a publishing house who are milking the benefits of someone else's creativity (Marion Sinclair- who died 22 years ago). 

Are long copyright terms really serving society's interests?   Even within a songwriter or artist's lifetime there is a clear disincentive to create new material if existing material continues to enjoy protection for the rest of their life.  The more talented and successful the creator the less incentive they have to work again.  Aren't they just the people that society wants to be most active?

Shorter copyright terms increase incentives to bring out and market new innovative material - and will hugely increase the free availability of older materal to be used in new creative ways.  It should mean a richer world for all of us... though we might hear some complaints from beyond the veil....

No comments: