Imagine if you could stop the hands of time, and capture the moment, hang on it, and reap whatever riches it brings.
A couple of years back, a copyright extension act was passed by Congress. Some people who were hoping to benefit from the entry of books, music, and film into the public domain were denied that opportunity because the act added another 20 years to works protected under copyright. When those artistic endeavors were created some 70 or so years ago, there was no expectation that copyright would still be in effect and royalties would still be rolling in come the twenty-first century.
We value freedom of expression in the United States. But, we also believe in giving people an incentive to create, and in rewarding them for their artistic expressions. When you render it down to simple terms, copyright is a way of limiting expression by giving people who have created something new an opportunity to benefit from that expression. Our founding fathers limited that monopoly over expressions. People would profit from their works, and then the expressions and ideas would enter into the public domain where others could use those creations to make something new. Or, at least, that was the idea.
An argument today before the Supreme Court in the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft challenged the latest act to extend copyright which benefits companies like Disney. If the challenge is successful, the movie makers would lose some of their oldest creations to the public domain. The greatest irony, perhaps, is that Disney's most loved accomplishments were movies based upon older tales from the public domain, such as Cinderella, Snow White and the Little Mermaid.
The studio has a new movie coming out this Friday. I read a New York Times review (reg. req'd) yesterday, and a passage from that article made me think of Disney's efforts to cling so tightly to the past:
In some ways, it's the most obvious, evergreen story line around, the stuff of daydreams from Ponce de León onward. What sets "Tuck Everlasting" apart from the usual fairy-tale fantasy of immortality, however, is its dark, cautionary note about the dangers of interrupting nature's progression. "I was happy that in this seeming children's book, there was this lurking terror, not of death but of undeath," Mr. Hurt said in a telephone interview. "Most people think of life as the story of life and death. Death is a bookend. If you take that bookend away, what have you got?"The original idea behind copyright is a good one. Provide incentives for people to create. Give them an chance to earn some money and credit for their expressions. And then, allow those ideas to enter into society were they can be used by other people to create something new. Endlessly extending copyright protection interrupts that progression of expressions, and keeps them from being the inspiration for new works.