I've seen many discussions on a "proper" length of copyright go to extremes, but Megan McArdle's column on TheAtlantic.com takes what I think is a balanced and intelligent view of the topic
. For example:
Also, at a time when the average life expectancy is 40, a copyright term of 21 years provides more than adequate incentive. In the modern day, we're trying to persuade young writers and artists to essentially make a large capital investment in their art by irrevocably committing to a career in their art. If at 45 or 50 their most successful works no longer produce revenue, the writer who produced his or her best work at 25 has a big problem. Hedging their bets by keeping a second career going does not make them or us better off.
It seems to me that the strictest advocates of very short copyright terms tend to be tenured professors--people who already have their retirement taken care of.
A very good point. The point about professors is one that has bothered me, as well. If I'm a highly-paid professor who wants to give his books away, like a Lawrence Lessing (who still
sells his works), that's fine, but why expect that all writers should act as though they had tenure, which means essentially a lifetime lock on a job?
Perhaps the problem is that the extensions of copyright have been at the behest of corporations. Maybe companies should actually have shorter
terms of copyright than individuals, because they are generally in a better position to profit from the works, which is the reason copyright is in place at all - as an incentive. How much more incentive do the corporations need?
Yes, if corporations were under greater restrictions, they'd try some end-around, like forcing people to license works to them in perpetuity. However, the copyright statutes allow for any copyright holder to end a license 35 years after the copyright date. So there would still be a limit, based on the copyright owner or his or her estate taking action.