Wired's 'Free & Unfree' atlas: U.S. in latter category


David Rothman writes "On paper--sorry, I can't link and won't pirate--Wired's June issue is running an atlas of "Free & Unfree" countries based on intellectual property laws. Naturally we in the States are a dark blue, meaning that the U.S. is among the copyright and patent zealots. More at TeleRead."


I had a whole lot of frequent flyer miles on some airline I seldom fly anymore. I recieved an offer to exchange them for magazine subscriptions. I chose Wired as one of the subscriptions.

Seldom have I found a less interesting, more annoying periodical. The articles lacked substance and the number of blown in inserts that fell out was annoying.

I called the magazine and after a few transfers to the company who did the ff/mag promotion finally asked that it be stopped. I think I switched to the Financial Times. I would have rather read John Kerry speeches than Wired.

There's already a category protection available to Disney or Crossgen or anyone else with a continuing series of recognizable characters; it's called "trademark". Viacom and its predecessors have successfully protected the Star Trek characters with trademark; George Lucas et al. have protected the Star Wars characters, etc.The neat thing about trademark is that the company can maintain it effectively _forever_--as long as it's around, and as long as it finds it worthwhile to do so. They could rely on their trademarks in these characters, and not affect the fates of borderline books, stories, songs, whatever, whose authors, and whose authors' grandchildren, are no longer around to care. Instead, though, Disney (and others, but Disney's the biggest and most aggressive) chooses to push for perpetual extension of copyright. What do they get with copyright that they don't get with trademark? The right to be lazy and careless, the right to hold on to something they think is currently worthless, with no effort, in case someday it turns out to be valuable again. That's because copyright _doesn't_ have to be actively defended; no matter what you let someone do with your copyrighted property, you still have the right to stop someone else who does something you object to, or does it at a time that you object to. Trademark does have to be actively defended, so that if you stop defending a mark for a few years, and then decide you're miffed because someone else is using something that might be mistaken for it, you're out of luck.This would be less offensive, if Disney itself respected other people's marks and copyrights. They don't. (cf. _The Lion King_ and _Simba, the Wbite Lion_.)(And, on the other hand, I see no reason why they should be required to complete some long-range plan in order to keep getting protection, if they think it's _worthwhile_ to trademark the characters and continue to use and defend the mark, even if it is just in the first few issues/stories/whatever, with the later ones never completed.)

"Disney already has the responsibility to enforce its own copyrights. We owe them reasonable means to do that; we don't owe them, or any other corporation, a living."

Yes but its a very clear responsibility, all or nothing. As charachters trickle out here and there it suddenly becomes a lot more complicated. And no we don't owe *anyone*, corporation or individual, a living. We do owe them an oppurtunity to succeed.

What's strange is having the same rules apply to a work that is finite and a work that, while not infinite, is intended to go on over a period of time. Maybe we need to create a new classification of copyright. If you copyright a work as a single work certain rules apply, if you copyright a work as 'ongoing' other rules apply. Take for example Crossgen. They created an entire comic universe in an effort to compete with Marvel and DC. They have a 10 year plan for their business (though its hit hard times recently). Suppose their goal was larger? Why not give then a 25-30 year run to create a body of work that they can then draw from to create something bigger and larger? If they don't complete the long range plan then they don't get the extended copyright benefits.

Disney already has the responsibility to enforce its own copyrights. We owe them reasonable means to do that; we don't owe them, or any other corporation, a living.Books or songs or movies usually have limited lifetimes. Some don't, except on the scale of their entire culture; that's what we generally mean by the term "classic." Others are dead almost before they're published. But in between, there's a great number of books, songs, movies, etc., that drop below the level of potential sales that would justify making them the lead title for a major publisher's main list, but still have a real audience that could be reached. And if someone gets those books out there, they might even have a rebirth of popularity and generate real profits for somebody, as well as real enjoyment for lots of people.The ready availability of many editions, hardcover and paperback, full text and abridged, with and without explanatory notes, introductory material, illustrations (the original-edition ones or new), of most of our classics rests on the fact that copyright _ends_, it is not forever. Elevating the supposed "property rights" of the distant descendants of the creator of that work over the rights of the culture of the whole is not traditional, conservative property rights theory. It's a bizarre new idea invented by people who apparently think that the concept of property rights is the only value that matters and the one perfect solution to _all_ problems, rather than simply one of the good, useful values that _helps_ build a civilized society.

definitly not a bad thing, though Odyssey Kingdom could've had potential.

But the point is it took 50 years plus to make Disney what it is today. Yes they have a huge cast of charachters at this point but its a question of bodies of work. Are Mickey and Buzz Lightyear in the same volume? No. But the Mickey family would have to include Donald, Goofy, Minnie, et al. If you were to open up one charachter then you put the responsibility on Disney to police what other people are publishing. Can Mickey have a pet dog at all if Pluto is still under copyright? Can he have a mouse girlfriend?

A book or song or movie have a limited lifetime. I don't buy the idea that all literature should be saved for everyone to have access to. If Library of Congress owns a copy but it wasn't good enough to stay in print for any serious length of time, I'm fine with that.

The flip side is that there is no "Shakespeare Kingdom" and never will be.Ummm...you make that sound like a bad thing.

Greg, they've _had_ a long period of copyright--a very long period of copyright. In the meantime, they've developed other stories and characters to which they would continue to have exclusive copyright for many years even if today Congress said, "Stop the insanity!" and repealed the most recent version of the Mickey Mouse Copyright Protection Act.In the meantime, books, stories, plays, etc., that are not Mickey Mouse or the works of John Grisham, but which would have a readership, are out of print because they wouldn't be profitable _enough_ to justify tracking down the heirs of something published seventy years ago, or the heirs are known and findable, but they are absolutely clueless about literary properties and think their ancestors' work should bring in huge sums for them.Life plus twenty-one years would provide for the author and their youngest possible dependent children until adulthood, and no company that was still producing creative works that people wanted to read/watch/listen to would go broke if corporate copyright ended at fifty years.

What happens when copyright runs out is suddenly we are going to be flooded with all things Superman or all things Mickey Mouse. On the one hand thats great because even though the majority of it will be junk the cream will rise to the top and we'll see new ideas and new art that we may never have had a chance to see.

The flip side is that there is no "Shakespeare Kingdom" and never will be. No one is going to invest billions of dollars and years of time to create something that large when anybody can create whatever knock-off products they want. It has taken a long time for Disney to reach the heights they have and a long period of copyright is what makes an investment like that worthwhile.

Countries that don't recognize or enforce intellectual property rights at all have problems and create problems. However, in IP as in many other parts of life, the fact that some is good doesn't necessarily mean that ever-increasing protection is better, or even neutral.

The Constitution authorizes the federal government to grant patents and copyrights for "limited periods of time" in order to encourage inventors, writers, and artists to publish. And patents were supposed to be narrow, protecting only the actual new invention.

Now, we have copyrights that are not fourteen years, or twenty-six, or fifty-two, but life plus 75 (or is it now life plus 95?), with some room for serious question as to whether anything will ever be allowed to fall out of copyright again, while Disney's around to protect its Mickey Mouse copyright. How does preserving copyright, not only long past the death of the writer or artist, but past even the deaths of the children and well into the lifetimes of their great-grandchildren, encourage creativity? How would creativity hav benefitted if the works of Shakespeare, for instance, had eternal copyright protection? (And who would you pay the royalties to?)

Even though patents are protected for only twnety years from filing, the situation isn't much better, because patents are _not_ being granted narrowly. Especially in software, internet, and business practice(!) patents, widely-used techniques, common practices, and blindingly obvious applications are being granted patents, enabling people who did nothing creative themselves to suppress or profit from the work of others, who were actually putting the technique/practice/development to work in ways that made people's lives better in small but real ways.

I haven't read the Wired article, so I don't know what they're saying, but there really is a lot to be said about the unproductive and anti-innovation ways that IP rights are being applied in the US of late.

Why is it such a problem to enforce intellectual property rights? We are a free country where people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine if intellectual property safeguards were eased, what would that do to creativity? Everyone would steal from everyone else. Countries that are easy on these laws have traditions of collective interaction and not as much individuality. We have a tradition of individual rights and protection of those rights.It seems to me in my humble opinion that easing intellectual property laws creates an environment of intellectual socialism.

Superman is a trademark of DC but that doesn't mean that Action Comics #1 can't ever be reprinted by an outside company does it?

DC also trademarks every single charachter they have. Which means each charchter would only need to make the occasional cameo in one of the more regular titles to stay active indefinitly. I'm surprised you support that concept.

Crossgen creates a whole universe in the form of various titles. One of those titles was The First. Now that title has since ended but if five or even ten years down the road they bring that title or those charachters back into play they shouldn't have to worry about defending that title or those charachters inbetween-time.

Star Wars, Star Trek, Crossgen, et al. are massive creations that are constantly in-flux, much like real life. One day certain trends are hot, another day its something else. If trademark really protected all of that then there wouldn't be the current copyright battles that there are.

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