Saturday, September 21, 2002

larry lessig, mickey mouse, snow white, and copyright extension

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit the Wired web site, and read Lawrence Lessig's Supreme Showdown. It's a long but very informative look at the background of the law professor. Larry Lessig is a key figure in what may become a landmark Supreme Court case. I'm not sure how much insight into the case we are going to get from his Lessig Blog, but I'll be visiting there regularly to see what thoughts he may have during the case.

The case? That would be Eldred v. Ashcroft. What's at stake in this case? How might the high profile argument about copyright extension that it focuses upon affect our lives?
If the law's challengers succeed, many of the oldest creative images in the United States will suddenly become part of the public domain. Films such as "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" would no longer be subject to copyright protection.

Many of the works of Robert Frost, Agatha Christie, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others would belong to the public, not the writers' estates.
You may have seen references to Disney in articles about copyright extension, or the law referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Disney does have a great amount to lose if this copyright extension law is knocked down. But, if that happens, who wins? Well, the simple answer is to point to you the plaintiffs and lawyers listed on the Eldred web site.

But, the real winners are the people who could benefit from having the works in the public domain. That would be you and I. Whether we take these previous artistic efforts, and incorporate them into our own works, or just share them freely with others and discuss them. I wanted to post a Robert Frost poem on a web page, a little over a week ago. It expressed my thoughts that day, perhaps better than I could do at the time. I ended up quoting one line and linking to the poem. Somehow, I think that Frost would have liked if I reprinted his poem, and shared it with others, and discussed what it meant to me.

But, it also goes beyond web publishers being able to post older works on the net. One of the plaintiffs is a music publishing company. Just what does the copyright extension mean to music publishers, performers in schools, orchestras, and church choirs? An article subtitled They probably won't call it Luck vs. Mickey Mouse, takes a look at the case from the perspective of this plaintiff (Luck's Music Library).

The opening line to a Los Angeles Daily News article asks "Will Mickey Mouse become a free agent?". I'm hoping that he does. Maybe Snow White can join him, before they make her do too many Kung Fu movies.

No comments: