Intellectual Property v. Public Domain.

Since I wrote this I have not been able to stop rolling the implications around in my mind. I was determined to keep thinking about it until I could adequately express how I’m feeling about it.

Imagine a computer system that has a detailed record of every single piece of music ever written. I believe that we would be able to draw a line showing influence from a cave-person humming the first recognizable note all the way to Justin Bieber and beyond.

I took the following quote from the documentary Everything Is A Remix (24 minute, 27 second mark). Forgive my punctuation. I’m typing it from spoken word.

This is social evolution; copy, transform, and combine. It’s who we are, it’s how we live, and (of course) it’s how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones. {…} our system of law doesn’t acknowledge the dirivitive nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property; as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries. {…} Ideas aren’t so tidy. They’re layered. They’re interwoven. They’re tangled. When the system conflicts with the reality the system starts to fail.”

Copyright was intended to provide a brief and limited period of exclusivity so the creator could capitalize on their creation before it enters public domain for use by all. The original copyright act gave the creator 14 years with the ability to renew for another 14 if the creator was still alive at the end of the copyright period.

“Culture is impossible without a rich public domain.” – Alex Kozinski

The public domain has been halted. The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 extended copyright protection to the life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years. The reality is that music created in the 1980s is under lock and key until the 22nd century (depending on the life spans of its original artists). So we can expect our public domain to start growing again (assuming no more extension acts pass) in the early 2100s.

Music moves fast. From experience I know a band can hear a riff from an old song and build an entirely new song on top of it in an afternoon. Change one piece of that song and the magic may be gone.

My contention with Tom Petty is that copyright protection is too long. That he can receive royalties for a song released 25 years after his song because the two share 13 consecutive intervals yet bear no other similarities else is nothing short of asinine.

Copyright on music should last 14 years (renewable to 28), the way it was originally intended.


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