NY Times op/ed on the ramifications of copyright law:
- Every night before I go to bed I take one of my music CD’s and insert it into my computer. While I sleep my computer translates the music into a compressed digital format onto my computer’s hard drive. Over the course of the past year I have been steadily building my own personal jukebox from the 300 CD’s I own. I can now listen to only my favorite songs on an album, rearrange songs into my preferred order, or move them to a portable player. Besides my own virtual personal radio station, I also have an index and catalog of the music I have bought.
I am not the only one digitizing music. Without breaking any law, I could just as easily have gone on the Web to download the songs I had bought in the same digital format, thanks to the prior work of many other music lovers. So far music listeners around the world have digitized more than 850,000 albums and 10 million songs of all musical genres. Fans have already converted almost all music ever recorded.
This point is essential to the case that was heard Wednesday in the Supreme Court. In Eldred v. Ashcroft, copyright holders argued that it is vital to extend the life of copyright — even though it has already been extended 11 times in the last four decades. A 1998 law extended the protection of copyright for an additional 20 years: material is now protected for 70 years after the creator’s death or for 95 years if the copyright is held by a corporation. Only after the copyright has lapsed does it enter the public domain, meaning that anyone can use the work for whatever purpose — creative, academic, even commercial.
Owners of an about-to-expire copyright have several favorite arguments for extending it. One is that it spurs creativity by making original works more valuable. But an extension actually restricts creativity by narrowing the shared universe of works artists can build upon. Another is that they need an extension as an incentive to convert old material into new media. As Jack Valenti, the chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, has pointed out, digitizing films is expensive. “Who is going to digitize these public domain movies?” he asks.
I have an answer: movie buffs….