As I train school districts around the country on how to digitize everything into computer libraries, the attendees always start asking about Fair Use, Copyright, and Licensing questions.  While we can easily figure out what the current laws are, often times, there are vagaries and questions that surround legal concepts that have no easy answers.  When cautioning a school recently to stay away from digitizing any of their Disney content, one of them shared a video with me that is something of a parody on Disney – and brings up an interesting question for discussion:

So, while the video was masterfully compiled of all these snippets from Disney movies, and brings up good points about the current laws, the overall message is that copyright has gone overboard!  They say through the compilation that Copyright used to last only 14 years.  More recently, copyright has been extended to the lifetime of the owner +70 years and companies retain copyright for over 100 years.  The message given here is that “there seems to be no limitation on how long copyright can last.”  Instead, the message is that converting work to the public domain (free for use and derivative works) is an important .  A couple lines are rather interesting:

1.  Having to pay someone for use of their copyright protected work is all about money…”I prefer to think of it as capitalism”

2.  Hear that sound?  It’s the sound of your freedom fluttering out the window…

3.  The Public Domain is necessary for a living, thriving society

4.  Copyright seems to be getting longer and there seems to be no limitation on how long copyright lasts

I started shifting in my stance a little – because initially I was laughing quite a bit at the parody (and at the skill/time it took to produce the video), to realizing that some of the sentiments meant I would lose ownership of my own work if some of these ideas were to come to pass.  Conversely, it also struck me that I use a lot of Public Domain and Open Sourced content myself.  Is it fair/right to sit on both sides of this debate?  Something in me says no.  So, I asked myself the question?  How long should someone retain copyright over their work before it becomes available for public use without compensation?  Wow!  I’d never really thought about the number.  A couple numbers came to mind:  Does 14 sound long enough?  What about that other one – the lifetime + 70 rule?  Maybe something in the middle?  The lifetime of the owner?  Perhaps 50 years?  75 years? 25 years?  There’s no easy answer, is there?  What do you think?  How long should  copyright last?

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