Saturday, February 4, 2012

Zen Bowling the Opera - Where I Draw the Line on Copyright

Just how long are copyright terms nowadays?...

Let's say (foolishly) that I write my life's operatic masterpiece next year (2013), at the age of 30, and it becomes world-famous. [By the way, it's an epic comedy-drama about bowling, Buddhist meditation, and the meaning of life, tentatively titled Zen Bowling.]

So now everyone and their moms want to produce Zen Bowling. I rake in the dough (hahaha, profitable opera, good joke...), and live comfortably on that income until my estimated death at age 85, in 2068.

I agree that people shouldn't be able to stage Zen Bowling for free, create a commercial recording, develop a movie version, arrange the work for wind ensemble, perform selections on public recitals, write a sequel, create a fan-fiction graphic novel, sell Zen Bowling-themed T-shirts, etc., etc., for free, and thereby cash in on my success and hard work. It would be unfair to allow that sort of theft. Instead, people should be encouraged to do those things, with my permission, and required to share some of their profits with me.

But at some point in the future, people absolutely should be able to do those things for free. At some point, the "incentive to create" narrative runs out of steam. When should that be? 100 years ago, the law would have offered me protection of 28 years from creation, with another 28 years if I renew my claim. If we followed those rules, my fictional opera would become publicly available in 2040, when I'm 57, or, if I renew my copyright, in 2068, when I'm 85.

That seems reasonable to me, that a work I created at age 30 can be protected until I'm 85. If I were making the rules today, that's where I'd draw the line. 28+28 years is plenty. What about you? How many years do you require to protect the artistic integrity (read: financial potential) of your art? If you're living by today's rules, here's how long:

Copyright terms have been extended many times since the early 1900's - so much so, that, assuming I create this blockbuster opera next year (2013), and die when I'm 85 (2068), it will be protected from unauthorized use or re-use until the year 2138.

That's right, the day someone can start producing Zen Bowling or re-purposing its material without paying me (or my heirs/estate) for the privilege, is Jan. 1, 2138. That's 70 years after my death, 125 years after its creation, and 155 years after my birth. People my (fictional) great-great-great-grandchildren's age will be the first generation allowed to make a drawing of one of my now-famous characters and sell it without giving my (still fictional) great-great-great-grandchildren some of the profits.

That is ridiculous, unacceptable, indefensible, and more unbelievable than a profitable opera called Zen Bowling.

* Note: I am not a lawyer. But I am upset. This rant does not constitute legal advice. I may have forgotten to carry a "1". Do your own homework!


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