Really pro-consumer copyright reform. – David Bicksler
(Ed.note: While we don’t agree with at least some of the details of this proposal, David raises and addresses quite a few interesting issues in this piece, including some
you (me, too :)) probably haven’t considered about this issue.)
Thanks for your article on copyrights. It just proves that copyright reform requires changes in law through the U.S. Congress. What we need to push for is to move material into the public domain as fast as possible while leaving just a bit of copyright law in place for a few years so not all incentive to produce is removed. Most individual people produce books or music or art for reasons other than pure profit motive, so that would continue regardless, and the law should help individual contributors avoid the selling out to major companies that leaves authors with just 1% of profits. Some elements of a new copyright law:
1. All works would have to be registered online like domain names and assigned a U.S. copyright registration number before publication, sale, or any other release in order to maintain copyright, and all works without registrations are public domain. A central web site would record ownership and current copyright status administered by a Copyright Control Board (CCB) that is part of the Library of Congress. All copyrighted materials would be submitted and maintained in digital form, if possible, so they would never be lost or out of print for the Library of Congress. An annual registration fee would be paid by rights-holders when works are submitted to defray the costs, and develop a new system where all works are cataloged online and potentially available for digital download. These digital downloads could directly enrich authors and artists, or be free or low cost for public domain works now locked up offline at the Library of Congress. This central catalog and repository would be a world-wide cultural resource, and could form distribution channel to help new authors and artists. Owners of all the millions of copyrighted works would have 2 years to register them and bring them into this system after the law was enacted, or the works would become public domain.
2. To maintain the public trust, copyright holders would have to submit an annual affidavit of ownership information and descriptions of rights holders, sales and royalty dollar amounts, and contact information of licensees. An annual registration fee and copyright tax on sales based on the copyright classification and age of the copyright would be paid at the same time. Within a month after sale or transfer of the work to a new copyright holder an affidavit would also be submitted, like an auto title. To maintain copyright, works must be available for sale every year, and a 12 month period where it is unavailable for sale would void copyright and move it into the public domain. The sales affidavits would prove availability, and Disney could not keep copyright AND withhold videos from the market. Copyright holders must also avoid losing infringement lawsuits against other people or companies, and should lose copyright altogether after losing an infringement suit they bring. Copyright holders should also be subject to a new felony of copyright abuse if trying to maintain illegal monopoly over their works, and jail terms for copyright abuse should equal that of copyright infringement.
We currently have powerful companies (and the Church of Scientology) who use copyrights as weapons against others, and the threat of losing copyright claims after losing lawsuits, and prison terms for copyright abuse, would level the playing field. Copyright classifications would initially be:
A) Regular works subject to a $25 annual registration fee, plus a percentage tax on sales equal the age of the work. Initial submission would be just $25, while a work one year old would be $25 + 1%, ten years would be $25 + 10%, and so on. NOTE: If we wanted a 50 year cap on copyright, it should be 2% times age of the work. 20 year cap would be 5% times age. Since patents are 20 years, one could argue that copyrights should be no longer than patents since a hit song isn’t more worthy of government protection than a life-saving drug.
B) Copy-protected works subject to a $10000 annual registration fee plus a percentage tax on sales equal to 20% plus twice the age of the work. Initial submission would be $10000, while a work one year old would be $10000 + 22%, ten years would be $10000 + 40%, and so on. Copy-protection attempts to achieve Eternal (not limited) copyright protection and really should not be granted copyright protection at all because it is not free & open like a book in paper form. It is more like a trade secret, but if it is copyrighted, it should be expensive for companies choosing this format to discourage it. A studio with thousands of movies on DVD that are copy-protected would have to pay this fee & tax on each one every year, or the work would become public domain. That would allow the problem of existing copy-protected DVDs & CDs to be within a new copyright regime but discourage the production of new copy-protected.or encrypted works. Copy-protected works should also be submitted to the Copyright Control Board in unprotected form, or the encryption keys escrowed at the CCB. This is so rights to copy-protected works can be reclaimed by all customers AFTER their copyright status has expired.
C) Uncopy-protected works requiring only shorter-term copyright less than 20 years would be subject to the $25 annual registration fee plus a percentage tax on sales 1/2 the age of the work. Initial submission would be $25, while a work one year old would be $25 + 0.5% of sales, ten years old would be $25 + 5% up to a maximum of $25 + 10%. Articles like scientific journals and popular periodicals which could be released within the first year would only pay the initial $25 registration fee. Most revenue is made for authors & publishers within a short time beyond which copyright isn’t needed. There is much talk of scientific journals being released after 6-12 months to developing countries so they won’t fall behind – even if they can’t afford the journals.
Having the web site list ALL copyrighted materials would make ownership and current copyright status clear. If not on the site, or is explicitly listed as expired (failed to maintain copyright, or the copyright expired, or those whose copyright holder explicitly transferred to the public domain early) it is public domain and freely available. People would be able to determine ownership from the web site, and the site could have links to where the work could be purchased or downloaded. A search on the site that found no registered work (or registered but public domain) would be provide a potential user a receipt of non-infringement, that a copyright check was actually done and turned up nothing. Someone who attempts to contact the listed copyright holder and gets no response would then use this “non-availability” evidence to have the Copyright Control Board invalidate the copyright and make it public domain immediately. Works claiming copyright should be available for purchase, licensing, and use or be stripped of copyright.
This concept would balance the public interest with the cost in fees & taxes demanded from the copyright holder. With no annual registration fee or tax on sales or requirement for availability, we have the “Tragedy of the Commons” where the public interest is trampled on like the English commons were over-grazed with sheep. A copyright holder that doesn’t have to pay registration fees & tax on sales will always say – “I want the longest possible copyright with the harshest possible penalties for those who infringe” If those fees & taxes have to be paid, many works will revert to public domain sooner because they are no longer worthwhile to maintain in protected form. A balance between the public & the author is maintained. The U.S. would also move to have WIPO and international copyrights brought in line with this new regime, something easier for many developing countries to handle than current and planned laws & treaties.
Copyrights are presently like unexploded land mines that are left after military conflicts, because registration trails are often not clear and use of the material can trigger expensive lawsuits for individuals and companies. Requiring a clear title to copyright that is maintained annually and when transferred would avoid the unexpected legal catastrophes to innocents, safeguard our cultural history, and provide people a way to obtain works while compensating rights holders.