[cc-br] A washingtonpost.com article from: omar at kaminski.adv.br

omar at kaminski.adv.br omar at kaminski.adv.br
Fri Jun 27 03:46:51 EDT 2003


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 Bill Seeks to Loosen Copyright Law's Grip
 
 By Brian Krebs
 
  Two members of Congress today introduced legislation they said would
ensure the American public's access to the nation's intellectual and
artistic heritage.
 

 The Public Domain Enhancement Act would require the owners of
copyrighted works -- such as songs, books and software -- to pay a $1
fee to maintain their copyrights once 50 years have transpired from the
work's original publication. If owners failed to pay the fee, the work
would enter the public domain, and the public would be free to
reproduce, republish or alter it.
 
 
The legislation is aimed directly at recent changes to copyright law
that extended the lifetime of copyrights from 75 to 95 years after the
author of a work dies. The changes were part of the Sonny Bono Copyright
Term Extension Act of 1998, which the Supreme Court upheld in
January.
 
 
The sponsors of today's bill said that the 1998 law prevents the public
from building upon and preserving creative works. The Internet, they
say, has made more information and creative works available to the
public than ever before. It allows the public to preserve materials that
their owners might forget about once they're no longer profitable, and
is built on a foundation of copying, enhancing and sharing all manner of
content. Perpetually extending copyright terms, they say, cuts away at
what makes the Internet a vibrant and important cultural
exchange.
 
 
Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig, who argued the copyright
extension case before the Supreme Court last year, said that longer
copyright terms give large corporations like the Walt Disney Co. a lock
on material that should be readily available online.
 
 
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the chief sponsors of the copyright
proposal introduced today, cited Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent to the
Supreme Court's January decision to uphold the Sonny Bono law. Breyer,
Lofgren noted, made the point that excessive copyright lifetimes go too
far to protect a small percentage of commercially valuable works. The
justice wrote that only 2 percent of copyrighted works between 55 and 75
years old retain their commerical value.
 
 
"As a result, there are so many works that are no longer published, read
or even seen anymore that they have effectively been orphaned," Lofgren
said in an interview. "It is time to give these treasures back to the
public."
 
 
Fred von Lohmann, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, said the new legislation would restore the balance between
copyright law and legitimate uses of works that no longer hold
commercial value.
 
 
"There are literally hundreds of millions of Web sites and other works
that won't have economic value a few years from now but will continue to
be copyrighted for 150 years, leaving archivists, historians and others
interested in preserving these works shut out for no good reason," von
Lohmann said. "As long as the author is finished exploiting the value of
the work, it should fall into the public domain so that the best use can
be made of it."
 
 
Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America,
said consumers are not necessarily better off when copyrighted works
lapse into the public domain.
 
 
"Especially in the case of movies, those works are more available for
public consumption when their owners have an economic incentive to
preserve and market them," Taylor said. "Once those works fall into the
public domain, those incentives are removed and consumers end up
being the losers."
 
 
Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for
Internet and Society, said the legislation introduced today does not
impose a severe burden on copyright owners.  Instead, it requires them
to take stock of their holdings to see which works still have
commercial value.
 
 
"This bill simply says, 'Fine you can keep your copyright term
extension, but show that you really want to exploit the work,'" Zittrain
said. "If you're not willing to even invest a dollar to
retain the monopoly on it, then why is there any reason to think that
the monopoly will cause you to do anything with it?"
 

 Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) joined Lofgren in introducing today's
bill.
 
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