Sunday, February 08, 2004

In 1710 the copyright term was set to 14 years extendible by another 14 years. In 1842 the British said life-plus 7 years. In 1908 Berne said life-plus 50 and in 1998 Mickey upped the stakes to life-plus 70 years. When will the term tussle end?

I propose that if authors were to publish their work under the Distributed Intellectual Property Rights system the collective rights model would allow the author to choose the term of his or her controlling interest in the creative work.

"How can we possible allow this?" is the cry I hear from the Creative Commons camp and many others who take an interest in the issue. "Surely, no work will ever reach the public domain again!"

On the contrary, I maintain that the time for most works to reach the public domain would be reduced under DIPR for, unlike copyright, there is a cost, albeit small, to maintaining a persistently identified work. Under copyright there is no cost to maintaining the copyright after producing the initial tangible manifestation and this is why there is a group proposing the Public Domain Enhancement Act where for a fee of 1$ after a period of fifty years, say, a rights holder would be able to maintain their copyright if it was still worth 1$ for them to do so.

Better than this artificial public domain enhancement cost, the ongoing costs of maintaining a collective work in DIPR will persuade owners to relinquish their rights to a work immediately it has finished paying its way. Let the author decide when this time arrives and therefore the length of the term.

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