Copyright and broken grand bargains

Courtesy of MG Siegler, I came across this Oatmeal comic and resonates. I too am incredibly disappointed that Hollywood doesn’t give it’s customers legal ways to watch the TV shows and movies it creates when I want to watch them, how I want to watch them.

The media industry and at least one tech columnist, who I really respect disagrees. In his blog, Andy Inhatko writes that I don’t have the right to watch the media, when I want it, where I want for what price I want it.

The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it. If it’s not available under 100% your terms, you have the free-and-clear option of not having it.

But, he is wrong. 

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution authorizes the following right:

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.

LIMITED. During the course of the 20th Century, the definition of limited has become practically speaking, unlimited. Hollywood has continued to press Congress to extend Copyrights right as they expire. Currently, for an individual, the copyright expires 70 years AFTER the individual dies. For a corporation, it is 95 years from creation of 120 years from publication. And, this law will be amended again, specifically each time Mickey Mouse is about to slide into the public domain. So, limited became UNLIMITED.

The grand bargain is a quid pro quo. We the people agree to protect copyright IF AND ONLY IF the copyright holder releases their content into the public domain. As the bargain has been broken, why are we, the taxpayers of the United States putting our dwindling resources to protecting copyright? Let’s say copyright had truly limited protection, say for one year. Do you think Game of Thrones wouldn’t available for me to purchase on the day it was released? 

Hollywood, the world does NOT OWE you unlimited copyright protection for your creations. Distribute your work in the way your customers are demanding, make money and start working on the next project. And stop whining when the deck is stacked in your favor.

UPDATE: To learn more about why public domain content is so important to our society, watch the Everything is a Remix video series. Hollywood copies relentlessly from itself and we are all enriched because of it. Imagine if anyone could do that.

UPDATE 2: Speaking of Hollywood violating copyright, Vevo violated the Super Bowl terms when they broadcast the event at their Sundance party. I haven’t seen anyone go to jail yet.

UPDATE 3: My argument is NOT a rational for piracy. I feel the focus of the current debate on IP infringement has completely missed the big picture – we citizens have given away rights because art enriches OUR lives. Hollywood is abusing that.

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