I posted a bit about photographers wanting to use the Grinch for their holiday shoots and was schooled in copyright law in return. With permission, here’s what I was told. (Everything beyond this paragraph is not my writing, but most of it makes sense to me. Also, I learned a lot.) After you read it, let me know what you think.
The main issue I have with copyright is that the protection term is FAR too long.
The original copyright term in the US was 14 years.
After that, things went into the public domain and became part of our culture, free for anyone to use as they wish.
The term length crept up over the years, but even until the 1970s it was 28 years, with a 28-year renewal term if requested.
Then we signed a treaty that bumped it up to life-plus-50-years for individual creators, and 75 years for corporations.
Then, we bumped it up again to life+70 / 95 years.
This past January, works from *1923* entered the public domain.
It was the first time anything had entered the public domain in over 20 years.
Most of the massive expansion of the copyright term was driven by corporate interests, Disney in particular.
Which is even more ironic because Disney has made tens, possibly hundreds of billions of dollars by mining the public domain.
They create very few original characters.
They take from our shared culture, but refuse to give back.
Should I really feel bad about drawing a Disney character without compensation? How much did they compensate the Grimm brothers, or Victor Hugo, or de Villeneuve?
They’ve taken something that originated as part of our culture, popularized their specific version of it, and then charge us for it. They’ve basically monopolized our culture from us and act as gatekeepers to it.
Your specific example was the Grinch.
Dr. Seuss created the Grinch in 1957.
He’s been dead for what, 30 years?
The Grinch is part of our culture now and there’s compelling reason for his estate to continue to be able to profit from it, other than greed.
Lord of the Rings, the same. Tolkien’s been dead longer than I’ve been alive. Why is his 90-year old son still able to tell people they can’t make films of any of Tolkien’s work (aside from The Hobbit and LotR, to which Tolkien sold the film rights when he was alive and his son couldn’t claw them back)?
Copyright is not a law of nature.
It’s a bargain.
In order to promote the progress of science and useful arts, we grant creators a monopoly on their creative work for a limited time, so they can earn a living from it.
This is supposed to incentivize creators to create new work.
We’ve gone well past the balance point between incentive and greed, though.
Nobody is incentivized by receiving royalties from work created by their dead ancestors.
Patents and trademarks, the other main forms of intellectual property protection, are a great contrast, because they haven’t been distorted the same way (although drug companies are working hard on patents).
Patents last for 20 years.
Trademarks don’t have a defined term, but they can be “genericized” and lost.
This is why you can use kleenexes and the xerox.
There’s a balance there.
Which copyright has utterly lost.
I think that mostly ends my rant.