In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute argues that copyright should last forever. He describes the expiration of a copyright as a "total confiscation" by the government of your property, equivalent to confiscating "farms, ropewalks and other forms of property in the 18th century." He concludes, "No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind."
Larry Lessig called attention to this article on his blog yesterday. I wrote a reply and sent it in to the New York Times.
not4writingon helped me squeeze this down to 150 words (the Times' limit for letters), which was quite a challenge. What do you think?Date: Mon, 21 May 2007 04:52:34 -0500 (CDT) From: Ka-Ping Yee <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com Subject: Re "A Great Idea Lives Forever" (opinion, May 20) To the Editor: Re "A Great Idea Lives Forever" (opinion, May 20): Helprin argues: It's wrong for the government to commandeer your physical property, such as your house. Since many people make a living by writing, it's also wrong to let copyrights expire -- ever. The flaw in equating physical objects with copyrightable works is the difference in how they can be shared. Using physical property is exclusive: if I ride off on your bicycle, you can no longer use it. But downloading another copy of a book has no impact on your ability to read your own copy. When a book's copyright expires, everyone can share and enjoy its contents. In a sense, Helprin is right: copyright expiration makes as much sense as the government commandeering your house would -- in a hypothetical universe where such commandeering provided free housing for the entire world, including yourself. In such a universe, I'd want that house in the public domain as soon as reasonably possible. Ka-Ping Yee Berkeley, May 20, 2007