Today, Lawrence Lessig is arguing the Eldred case in front of the Supreme Court. He’s arguing against the Copyright Term Extension Act. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution grants “authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries”. Those rights are meant to be protected only “for limited times”. When copyrights laws were first passed, in 1790, “limited times” equated to 14 years. (The owner was allowed to renew the copyright once.) The Copyright Term Extension Act, like those that came before it, redefined the meaning of “limited times” and it now currently stands at “life, plus 70 years” for individuals and “95 years” for corporations.
The effect of these extensions serve to protect the properties of companies like Disney. Companies who got their start by doing exactly the sort of thing that these extensions ensure will never be able to happen again. Steamboat Willie and all of the retellings of the Brothers Grimm’s stories would never have been allowed to propel the Disney corporation into the financial juggernaut it is today if copyrights were defended then like they are today.
The result is that the rich get richer. The big companies buy copyright term extensions and the small innovators have no opportunity to draw on a rich public domain, a free culture. Check out the links above or check out the latest news to learn more. Or there’s always the eye-witness accounts.