Unlikely Voter

Conservative views on polls, science, technology, and policy

Archive for June 27th, 2018

Copyright is a mess of big government. If we’re ever going to fix it, we need to start eliminating special carveouts for big corporations, and that’s where EFF is getting it all wrong.

You’ll never see me defending the current system for protecting copyrights on radio. The system is designed with the goal of making life as easy as possible for well-connected members of the broadcast oligopoly. You ever wonder why cable companies put up so many music channels? Or how radio stations change formats on a whim? It’s because of the “compulsory license” system.

Under this system, music copyrights are in a government-controlled “market” with complete price controls. Copyright holders have no say, no control, and no freedom in this system. But if you think that’s bad, it actually gets worse than that.

Musical works recorded before 1972 have fewer protections under this system, meaning those copyright holders get less protection than most copyright holders in the country. Those well-connected broadcasters can take full advantage of the “oldies,” with all the benefits accruing to the crony system.

There’s a law that seeks to close this gap, the CLASSICS Act. It basically says that these copyright holders should at least get paid, the way others do. They should get their money for their work. It’s not a great fix. It’s not an overhaul of the system.

EFF is trying to make this about copyright length, but that’s not what this is about at all. There’s no good reason to take just one group of people, these artists, and say that they should be denied the benefits of their works. If Steamboat Willie should stay protected, so too should these classic musical works. That’s fairness, instead of letting broadcasters win at the expense of artists.

I’ll support you if you want to pass an actual bill that would cut copyright down to a more reasonable length, more in line with the Constitutional requirement that copyrights end:

The Congress shall have Power […] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

Copyright is fine. But it’s supposed to be for a limited time. It’s true that the Congress has been bought off every single time Steamboat Willie, and therefore Mickey Mouse, has threatened to fall out of copyright. That’s not right, and that’s against the Constitution. But opposing the CLASSICS act won’t fix that.

Musical artists shouldn’t have to keep a special carve-out held against them, in the name of the principle of limited copyright. Let’s stop picking winners and losers here.