Keeping J.K. safe • 2 December 2008 • The SnowBlog
Keeping J.K. safe
So, can anyone tell me why copyright on a book lasts for 70 years after an author's death? I don't mean 'why' in the sense of 'because that's the law'; I mean 'why' in the sense of 'what useful purpose does that serve?'. I thought copyright allowed creators to profit from their works, which was nice for them. And by doing so it provided an incentive to other creators to get stuck in, which is nice for all of us. And balanced against that is the problem that, thanks to copyright, the creator of an idea has a monopoly on it and can either gouge us for the use of it or keep it from us. Society benefits when creators are incentivised AND their creations get out into the world and are allowed to circulate. So why do an author's great-grand-children need to profit? Isn't that bad for society without doing anything very useful for authors? I grant you that if copyright expired at the moment of an author's death, it would give publishers like Penguin, say, an incentive to assassinate J.K.Rowling. Which is not a good thing. I'm not saying Penguin would give in to that temptation, but why take the chance? So from that point of view, copyright would need to last beyond the planning horizon of most potentially-homicidal businesses - say, 15 years. No one would assassinate J.K.Rowling so that they could put out their own boxed set of Harry Potter for Christmas 2023, would they? Hopefully not. And the author's family still get a decade and a half of income to tide them over. What's wrong with that?
Is the answer purely that what you might call 'professional copyright owners' like music and media companies don't see why they shouldn't enjoy monopoly profits forever more and vigourously lobby government to that effect? Or am I missing something?