Patently Good Idea

Of all people, Steve Forbes has weighed in on the side of Eldred:

The Supreme Court recently ruled that congress’ extending copyright protection for yet another 20 years does not violate the Constitution. The extension was pushed primarily by Disney, which didn’t want any of its old Mickey Mouse cartoons entering the public domain. Now artistic works are protected for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years; for companies, 95 years. Maybe Congress should just be done with it and declare that a copyright is forever. Disney, of course, hasn’t hesitated to help itself to characters or works in the public domain, such as Pinocchio, Cinderella and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

The Disney situation is unusual. Only about 2% of copyrighted work between 1923 and 1942 continues to be exploited commercially. Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has proposed a sensible compromise. Borrowing a page from patent law, wherein holders have to pay a fee every few years to keep their patents current, Lessig would apply that principle to copyrights: After a certain number of years, copyright holders would have to pay a nominal amount of money to maintain protection. If the holder didn’t pay the charge for, say, three years, the work would go into the public domain.

Lessig, who has represented clients who tried to overturn the extension, points out that his compromise would still “make available an extraordinary amount of material. If Congress is listening to the frustration that the court’s decision has created, this would be a simple and effective way for the First Branch to respond.” He’s absolutely right.