A Seventy Percent Solution?

It is a little bit belated to be pointing out this April 7 article (“It’s a Steal”) by John Lanchester from the Manchester (UK) Guardian website, but it provides a nice counter piece to the screed advocating perpetual copyright that appeared in last week’s NY Times (see post here). Lanchester, at least, is aware of the balance that copyright law is supposed to strike between incentives for creators and the public interest in access to information and the raw materials for new works. He offers a poignant example of how copyright restrictions have hampered his own creative efforts as an author, and he takes a quick but eloquent romp through the history of copyright law in England. Most important is his acknowledgement that 70% of creative works are currently still protected by copyright but no longer in print. This massive limitation on public access with little corresponding economic benefit to creators is, perhaps, the worst imbalance created by current laws (although Lanchester also cites the extension of copyright term whenever Mickey Mouse looks over the abyss of the public domain). The solution he suggests, a limited copyright term with an ongoing right to minimal royalties, is not fleshed-out well at all, and may be unworkable, unwise, or both. The point is not that this one author can solve the problem; the value of the article is for a creative writer to recognize publicly that our current law has swung too far toward protection and needs to be realigned.