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Copyright vs Copywrong #2

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Current laws dictate that no one can duplicate another-s recording and copyrighted work without permission, until the copyright expires and the work falls into the public domain. They can re-record a song, but they cannot use the original master recording, in part or in full, without permission. Since the emergence of the digital age, consumers can easily replicate work, so the issues surrounding the protection of intellectual copyright have become highly relevant.

My favorite part of this debate relates to time and concept. Thomas Jefferson was one of the creators of the original copyright law, as written in the Constitution. Hard to be believe but in 1790, the term for copyright protection was 14 years. Since then, the copyright term has changed a number of times.

The current term for protection is 70 years following the death of the author for individuals. There-s a separate timeframe for copyright protection for corporations but this commentary focuses on the individual. If a songwriter writes a song when he-s 25 and dies at age 90, the term of his copyright for that song would be 135 years. That-s a sizeable difference from Jefferson-s original 14 years.

Creative people tend to live outside the traditional perimeters of conventional society, rarely receiving stable salaries, benefits or pensions for their efforts. If we want to encourage the risks of creativity, there has to be an attendant upside somewhere.

The artist-s financial future depends on a stable copyright law for their continued artistic development.

Having said that, I think the current copyright timeframes are too long and too rigid for the creative movement of our culture. The copyright originators simply wanted to install a secure financial structure for creative people. They never intended copyrights to be treated like real estate, passed down from generation to generation.

We live in a new age, where ideas are shared in a split second, media can be replicated perfectly and our ability to create is easier than ever before.

This is the time to open controls on creativity, allowing authors to have appropriate financial and creative rights but only to the point that it doesn-t reasonably impede the movement of culture.

It seems to me, a perfectly reasonable amount of time for complete copyright protection might be 35 years. That-s 35 years of full economic benefit and control. After 35 years, in my copyright reform fantasy, the originator would still receive a royalty for the work for a significant period of time, but anyone could create their own masterpiece, using partial elements from the original artist, without the artists- permission. The new artist would never be allowed to replicate the original artist-s work whole.

Danger Mouse, the DJ who is currently embroiled in a public debate over his use of the Beatles' White Album in his own Grey Album, would have been able to use the White Album, in my copyright reform fantasy. That-s because The Beatles' White Album was released in 1968, 36 years ago.

I gather that no one cared when the masterworks of the 18 century fell into the public domain, because at that point, the entertainment industry had such little economic clout. But now that the masterworks of the 20th century are starting to approach a time when they will fall into the public domain, the issues are looming large. America-s #1 export is intellectual property. No matter where you stand the issues, I would encourage everyone to explore intellectual copyright as it will undoubtedly be one of the most important cultural debates we-ll face in the 21 Century.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

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