Friday, May 17, 2013

14 Plus Potentially 14 More Years for Copyrights Has Become 120 Years

Our Intellectual Property Laws Are Out of Control

Thomas Jefferson opposed all government-granted monopolies, but James Madison argued that while monopolies generally are bad, there is a place for patents and copyrights. In the end, the Patent and Copyright Clause (Article I, Section 8) empowered Congress "[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
The idea was that innovators would be rewarded with a short-term monopoly on their work. Afterward it would enter the public domain, hopefully sparking further creations or discoveries. In the early days the Constitution's "limited times" were quite limited: 14 years for patents; 14 years, plus a potential 14-year renewal term, for copyrights. And patents were strictly scrutinized to ensure that they represented real inventions. (Jefferson himself, when he was secretary of state, served as a patent examiner, so important did he consider this task.)
Nowadays the limited times aren't so limited. Copyright has been extended to the life of the author plus 70 years; corporate works (with no living person as "author") get a 120-year term. Patents are good for just 20 years, but there's far less scrutiny to ensure that they represent something truly new—a lot of "nuisance patents" are filed to provide bargaining chips rather than to protect actual creativity. Also, influential companies often get Congress to extend their own patent rights through special legislation. Does a century-plus exclusive right encourage invention more than a 28-year exclusive right? It's doubtful.
Sadly, we continue to damage society to provide government granted monopolies to large campaign contributors.  And we allow our legal system to be subverted by companies threatening to subject others to abusive litigation.  We should fix the system to work for society instead of against the interest of our society.  It is even worse that the USA continues to pressure foreign government to adopt solutions those paying USA politicians lots of cash want, at the expense of the citizens in those countries.

The copyright and patent systems must serve their public purpose or encouraging innovation and creation. The current system does the opposite. The system is doing great harm to our society (likely more harm than anything other than the broken health care system). We need to fix it. Sadly we keep electing fundamentally corrupted politicians that act mainly to serve those paying them the most and who have shown little interest in what benefits the country.

Related: New Deadly Diseases for Business - Bad Government, Closed Access - links to articles on the deadly disease of our broken patent and copyright system - Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation

No comments: