Tag Archives: term

To Kill A Mass Market Paperback and Access to Knowledge

Just weeks after Harper Lee’s death on February 19, 2016, a notice was issued that the mass-market version of the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird would no longer be authorized for publication.  The mass-market version, used by countless students over the years, was priced at a much more affordable $8.99 than the trade paperback versions’ list price of between $14.99 and $16.99.  Students and schools who want to purchase new copies of the book will be forced to pay the much higher costs of the trade paperback.

This news is just the latest example of the problem of our current, excessively long copyright term.  Although the reason behind this decision has not been made clear, allowing the heirs of an author to control the legacy of a work and restrict access long after the author’s death can lead to unfortunate consequences.

The purpose of copyright is grounded in the U.S. Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”  The benefit of the public good, through the promotion of access to knowledge, is a key measure of the progress of science.  Yet with copyright term extending far beyond the life of the author — life plus seventy years in the United States (notably, a term that extends far beyond international standards) — access to knowledge can be curtailed and restricted even after the author is long gone.  Dissenting in Eldred v. Ashcroft, Justice Breyer noted that the Copyright Term Extension Act which lengthened copyright term in the United States to its current term, the “primary legal effect is to grant the extended term not to authors, but their heirs, estates or corporate successors.  And most importantly, its practical effect is not to promote, but to inhibit, the progress of ‘Science’–by which word the Framers meant learning or knowledge.”

How does the current copyright system incentivize current authors to promote the progress of science or to produce more works?  Breyer questions in his dissent in Eldred:

How will extension help today’s Noah Webster create new works 50 years after his death? Or is that hypothetical Webster supposed to support himself with the extension’s present discounted value, i.e., a few pennies?  Or (to change the metaphor) is the argument that Dumas fils would have written more books had Dumas pere’s Three Musketeers earned more royalties?

Indeed, it is unlikely that Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird with copyright term in mind.  In fact, when Lee published her novel in 1960, copyright term was significantly shorter: 28 years with the option to renew for an additional 28 years.  It wasn’t until 16 years later when the 1976 Copyright Act was implemented that the copyright term in the United States was measured against the life of the author, and 1998 when the Copyright Term Extension Act extended the term from life plus 50 to life plus 70 years.

Instead of the copyright on To Kill a Mockingbird expiring this year, as it would have under the copyright law at the time of Lee’s writing and publication of the novel, the rights to the novel will continue for the next 70 years.  Apparently, the first move by Lee’s successors-in-interest is to inhibit access to knowledge by prohibiting the publication of affordable copies of the novel.


Canada’s Budget Proposes Extension of Copyright Term for Sound Recordings, Ratification of Marrakesh Treaty

On April 21, 2015, Canada released its 500-page budget plan, which includes several references to intellectual property.

Among its copyright proposals, Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to amend the Copyright Act to extend the copyright term of sound recordings and performances from 50 years to 70 years.  The budget states,

The mid-1960s were an exciting time in Canadian music, producing many iconic Canadian performers and recordings.  While songwriters enjoy the benefits flowing from their copyright throughout their lives, some performers are starting to lose copyright protection for their early recordings and performances because copyright protection for song recordings and performances following the first release of the sound recording is currently provided for only 50 years.

Canada currently follows the international standard of providing 50 years of protection for sound recordings.  Canada is involved in the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a regional trade agreement with a total of 12 currently negotiating parties including the United States.  The United States has proposed a copyright term of life plus 70 years, or 95 years for published corporate works such as sound recordings.  Other countries with pre-existing bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with the United States (Australia, Chile, Peru and Singapore)  have pushed back against the extension to 95 years, instead advocating for a period of 70 years, the term that has been agreed to in previous US FTAs.  While the Canadian budget applies only to sound recordings, the proposal could indicate an intention to support the same term in the TPP.

On a more positive note, the new budget includes a number of proposals on “Helping Canadians With Disabilities,” including introducing implementing legislation for the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.  The budget calls to improve access to print materials for those who are visually impaired:

The Government will propose amendments to the Copyright Act to implement and accede to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The ability to access printed information is essential to prepare for and participate in Canada’s economy, society and job market. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 1 million Canadians live with blindness or partial sight. The Government will propose amendments to the Copyright Act to implement and accede to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (the Marrakesh Treaty). Aligning Canada’s copyright limitations and exceptions with the international standard established by the Marrakesh Treaty would enable Canada to accede to this international agreement. Once the treaty is in force, as a member country, Canadians would benefit from greater access to adapted materials.

This proposal is a welcome one and ARL urges Canada to move toward swift ratification.  Implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty would greatly improve access to accessible format works.  The Marrakesh Treaty allows for the cross-border exchange of accessible formats, allowing countries to avoid duplication of efforts as they can import existing accessible copies from other countries.  The Marrakesh Treaty currently has 8 ratifications and will need 12 more for entry into force.

Some will claim that these reforms will hamper artists. But these are the rules that gave us the music of Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Motown. The rules that governed the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wallace Stevens and Zora Neale Huston. The rules that protected the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell and Jackson Pollock. They are the rules that produced “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Star Trek” and “I Love Lucy.”

Amazing alternative SOTU address calling for a return to the 28+28 copyright term and registration requirement, from Virginia Postrel.

But what, I ask, about your great-great-great-grandchildren? What do they get? How can our laws be so heartless as to deny them the benefit of your hard work in the name of some do-gooding concept as the “public good”, simply because they were born a mere century and a half after the book was written?