This archived article was written by: Erik Falor
Corporations have taken the pursuit of intellectual rights to the Orwellian extreme, and have cornered the market on being unoriginal. The perpetual extension of copyrights will be the downfall of media as we know it. By not allowing their creations to ever become part of public domain, they have instituted an unfair double-standard that muscles smaller media outlets out of the game. This time giant corporations have gone too far by taking sole control over what can be published or recorded.
It began in 1998 when the Walt Disney Company went to Congress with the intent of keeping Mickey Mouse out of the public domain. Previously, the law stated that a copyrighted work would be protected by copyright laws for 75 years after publication. That meant that Mickey Mouse, who debuted in 1928’s “Steamboat Willie,” would enter the public domain in 2003.
After Disney and several same-minded corporations made generous campaign contributions, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was signed into law by Pres. Bill Clinton. It is interesting to note that this act was presented to Congress during both the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Kosovo War, and thus received little press coverage at the time.
The act effectually extended by 20 years the copyright protection of most media produced in the 20th Century. According to Chris Sprigman, counsel to the Antitrust Group, “tens of thousands of works that had been poised to enter the public domain were maintained under private ownership until at least 2019.” This sets a dangerous precedent that lets corporations maintain sole ownership over a work forever. What is to stop another conglomeration of big corporations from extending copyright protections for another 20 years in 2019?
This is bad because keeping everything created in the last half of this century out of the public domain means that corporations have an enduring monopoly on creativity. Many of the renowned works in our culture are borrowed from the creations of artists past. Without being able to borrow from a rich heritage of fables, folklore and stories, everybody (including the big movie studios) would be quite limited in their ability to synthesize new art.
Without borrowing from previously created art, Hollywood would go broke very quickly. Of the 10 top-grossing movies of 2003, six were sequels. Hollywood has made at least 34 versions of “Romeo and Juliet” for the screen and TV. If William Shakespeare’s estate still owned rights to that play, these movies may not have been filmed, and that would be one less Leonardo DiCaprio movie to take up shelf space at Blockbuster.
Maybe that is a bad example, but you can see where this is going. Disney Studios, of all companies, should be making a stand against such a notion. Almost all of their feature-length animated movies are based upon fairy tales that were not written in California.
Copyright extension acts only serve the interests of movie production studios that have plenty of money and influence. Just like the fairy tales of antiquity, it is time for Mickey Mouse to take his place in our heritage. He is already a recognizable part of our culture, and has been around longer than most people alive today. Keeping him out of the public domain is taking away from our American heritage. If Hollywood denies us this, they will be responsible for the death of creativity as we know it.
As far as responsibility goes, it is much more than simply being liable for an unfortunate occurrence. However, litigation-happy lawyers have done a grand job of destroying in our minds the cause and effect relationship between actions and their outcomes. Each day, several asinine excuses are concocted to explain away a person’s involvement in a crime situation. Passing the blame simply is a bad way of viewing the world.
If we let the arbitrators destroy the concept of personal responsibility, we may as well remove the notion of responsibility for all of the good things that people do. This bears the implication that one should not be able to claim sole legal ownership for intellectual property.
When we extend their logic, we raise the question of how a person can be solely responsible for a cogent thought. Walt Disney drove an ambulance in France during World War I. That means that France should get a big, fat royalty check every time Goofy sticks a fork in a light bulb socket. If any bad thing an individual does is ultimately society’s fault, then surely France is equally culpable for Mickey Mouse.
The “my mom drank paint-thinner when she was pregnant with me” nonsense needs to stop before our society figuratively wakes up one morning at the bottom of a stairwell lying in a pool of vomit and Jim Beam. Or worse yet, before our society wakes up and feels perfectly willing to spend hard-earned money on a Clay Aiken CD. Maybe it is too late, after all.
As for those people who do not want to pay money for an overpriced Aiken beer coaster, they are clearly ahead of the curve. The Recording Industry Association of America would do well to realize that fact before they go and sue everybody in the country. Despite the U.S. Justice Department asking them nicely not to, two weeks ago the RIAA filed 532 lawsuits against individuals they have not even identified by name.
Through court action, the RIAA intends to force a number of Internet service providers to cough up the names of individuals who were using the internet addresses associated with music piracy. In spite of pleas from the government to not flood our courts with hundreds of petty theft trials, the RIAA wants to make examples out of music pirates.
Pirates like 14-year-old Annie Leith, who will star in a Pepsi commercial to be aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday. According to www.usatoday.com, the commercial will feature 20 teenagers who have been sued by the RIAA. It is doubtful that the RIAA’s intended message is that the victims of their legal rampage get to be on TV with the Super Bowl. It is also doubtful that the RIAA set out with the intention of estranging themselves from music fans all over the world.
The commercial will jump start the “More than Pop” promotional campaign, a joint venture between Pepsi Cola and Apple’s iTunes music service. The two-month-long campaign is aimed toward computer-savvy teens who are more likely to enjoy bottled water or energy drinks than soda. Pepsi is offering 100-million-free-downloads from Apple’s popular iTunes site. That breaks down to a 1-in-3 chance of winning, which also happens to be better than your odds of survival if you enjoy eating food.
According to recent news reports on all of the major news outlets, tuna fish, a.k.a. “cat food packaged for human consumption” may contain elevated levels of mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal that persists in body tissue for a long time, and is known to cause neurological disorders. Now you have two compelling reasons not to put cat food on your sandwich.
As these reports of fish being unhealthy for consumption come in, some news anchors have come to the conclusion that there is no food that can be trusted. Beef will make you go mad, or kill you with E.coli. Chicken and eggs both have salmonella. Vegetables and fruit are covered with pesticides, and Atkins says bread makes you fat.
As much as I hate to say it, the media is making Soilent Green sound like a good alternative.
Intellectual rights is fast becoming a touchier subject than civil rights in our country. The media already has much power to control what we think (though this author does not wish to warp his audience’s mind). With the passing of the Digital Copyright Millennium Act in the U.S. and the imminent passing of a similar bill in Europe, we are standing on the threshold of the second Dark Age. The power to control creativity needs to be taken from the hands of the few and given back to the people. And for Pete’s sake, you don’t need to believe everything you read.