At the heart of Armstrong’s stance is the fundamental belief that, despite the transition from analog to digital culture, the foundation of copyright hasn’t changed. It has only created a greater and more urgent need for expeditious means of licensing the material -– or clearing copyright.Topically, The Economist takes us on a historical tour of copyright law and also makes an argument for radical change (Economist):
“I agree with the statement that everyone is now a publisher,” she says, “and what that means is a tremendous proliferation of material that is copyrighted and can be licensed.” She describes this as the “atomization” of content –- books being offered as individual chapters and paragraphs, computer software being parsed into individual lines of code –- a phenomenon that is causing exponential growth in the number of “granular” elements that are available to be licensed.
Of course, she adds, “the market is not infinitely elastic” -– and notes that there is plenty of information that will be offered for free, or will have to be.
The notion that lengthening copyright increases creativity is questionable, however. Authors and artists do not generally consult the statute books before deciding whether or not to pick up pen or paintbrush. And overlong copyrights often limit, rather than encourage, a work’s dissemination, impact and influence. It can be difficult to locate copyright holders to obtain the rights to reuse old material. As a result, much content ends up in legal limbo (and in the case of old movies and sound recordings, is left to deteriorate—copying them in order to preserve them may constitute an act of infringement). The penalties even for inadvertent infringement are so punishing that creators routinely have to self-censor their work. Nor does the advent of digital technology strengthen the case for extending the period of protection. Copyright protection is needed partly to cover the costs of creating and distributing works in physical form. Digital technology slashes such costs, and thus reduces the argument for protection.
A return to the 28-year copyrights of the Statute of Anne would be in many ways arbitrary, but not unreasonable. If there is a case for longer terms, they should be on a renewal basis, so that content is not locked up automatically.