Those who have seen a film at the cinema recently may have seen the MPAA's first major strike in the battle sure to come over Internet trading of movies: in place of a trailer, a set painter appears, talking about movies, then attacking what he called "piracy". The volley finishes with a domain name, which I assume is to be turned into a URI: respectcopyrights.org.
Later on, in NTK mêmepool 2003/08/08, I saw
... www.respectcopyrights.org vs www.disrespectcopyrights.org ...
Having laughed my head off every time I saw the aforementioned pseudo-trailer, I decided to check out this sure-to-be parody. Besides being a parody, disrespectcopyrights.org is a serious commentary on current copyright issues.
What's in a name?
The names of the two sites are misleading. Most of the people who ideologically support the beliefs behind disrespectcopyrights.org, such as myself, usually have much more respect for the idea of copyrights than the average person.
On the other hand, we do disrespect what copyright law has become. For example, though copyright, according to the U.S. Constitution, is solely for encouragement of production and publication of authored works, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 retroactively extended copyrights. RMS sums up our frustration with this:
But how you can encourage greater production of works in the 1920s by extending copyright today escapes me, unless they have a time machine somewhere. Of course, in one of their movies, they had a time machine. So maybe that's what affected their thinking.
There are many other problems, such as the strictness of the law. I believe verbatim non-commercial distribution should always be permitted, regardless of the authors' feelings on that.
The respectcopyrights.org people, i.e. the RIAA, have it vice versa. They respect the extremely strong copyright law they've helped to develop over years of lobbying, but have lost sight of the true purpose of copyright, in favor of "maximization"--except in areas of fair use.
I'll leave it to you to decide which is more important to you, and whom is really respecting copyrights. But the names are as they are.
RMS is not one to compromise in his philosophical writings. This is smart, because when it comes time to negotiate, a deeper starting point will mean an agreement more skewed towards said starting point, regardless of actual feelings on the matter. So I was very surprised to read "Misinterpreting Copyright", in which RMS proposes continuing to allow proprietary software, albeit with more public freedoms. More importantly for our purposes, he proposes a conservative reduction of the copyright term to ten years.
Why ten years? Because that is a safe proposal; we can be confident on practical grounds that this reduction would have little impact on the overall viability of publishing today. In most media and genres, successful works are very profitable in just a few years, and even successful works are usually out of print well before ten. Even for reference works, whose useful life may be many decades, ten-year copyright should suffice: updated editions are issued regularly, and many readers will buy the copyrighted current edition rather than copy a ten-year-old public domain version.
One of the traits of a successful democratic society is stability. Were a party able to implement its entire ideal for society instantly, the society would be in upheaval. Evolution, marked by marginal changes to the status quo, is the way to change policy, not revolution. Even though we believe we are right in all our beliefs, the odds are strongly against it. There is no way to correct this: if we knew which beliefs were wrong, they wouldn't really be our beliefs.
Think like a politician, and choose
Keeping the required stability in mind, and the original purpose of copyright, were you to introduce legislation tomorrow to change the term of copyright, what duration and fair use exceptions would you propose? Use these terms as your copyright.
Since we can't respect copyright law as it is, but we should respect some copyright law, we will respect our own. Ignore the law and follow your beliefs, rather than choosing simply to ignore copyright altogether.
Say you have selected RMS's standard of ten years, with variations. You would like to copy Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Under current copyright law, its age of 48 years (from 1955) is well under the legal limit for copying. But because that limit is silly, and it is older than the good limit, you may copy it.
How about The Last Starfighter, a 1984 movie? If you have decided that twenty years is a better limit for movies, then you should still consider it to be restricted under copyright law. It's 19 years old now, so wait another year.
This isn't limited to duration. If you believe, as I do, that verbatim non-commercial redistribution should be allowed, then by all means, copy away. What forms of copy restriction are unacceptable? Disobey these as well as ridiculously long terms.
Now that you have chosen your own copyright, there are other things you can do to change the current legal situation:
- Advertise your chosen length of time, linking to this article, or another of your own choosing.
- Let your favorite musicians, filmmakers, and authors know that you intend to respect their copyrights--but also tell them how much you intend to respect their copyrights. I don't think many of them will expect that, and it will make them think differently about the strength of copyright their publishers keep insisting on increasing.
- Some things, particularly proprietary software and copy-restricted CDs, resist attempts to respect only your own copyright. Help end this practice by never buying these products.
You can't resist it when you see "Movies. They're worth it." in dramatic fade in.
RMS: "Copyright and Globalization in the Age of Computer Networks".
RMS: "Misinterpreting Copyright".
RMS explains the reasons for variations in "Misinterpreting Copyright". His suggestions--by no means a complete recommendation--are twenty years for videos over 1 hour long, and three years for computer programs.