May 21, 2007

Treating Copyright Like Real Estate

In 2001, the New York Times wrote about adverse possession the legal doctrine that you can become the owner of property by using it without permission (the period varies but in NY it is 10 years). This is an interesting feature of property law but why bring it up now? Mark Helprin, coincidentally also in the New York Times, wants to treat copyrighted works like real estate.

Under the misleading title "A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?" Helprin wants Congress to extend "the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice. 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." But the vast majority of copyrighted works cease to be actively defended soon after publication because they simply do not make much money and the cost is prohibitive to defend such rights absent the prospect of significant financial gain. In fact, the vast majority of the beneficiaries of perpetual copyright will be the very "perpetrators of sensationalist trash" that Helprin gives such backhanded compliments to.

So by all means provide copyright the same protections, taxes, and regulations as property ownership so as to eliminate "such an unfair exception". But how shall we assess our scribblers' taxes? Shall tax opinion pieces in the NY Times at 100x the rate this blog gets taxed because such pieces are distributed in an "attractive neighborhood"? You can have a lot of twisted fun with this but the bottom line remains the same. Perpetual copyrights are a very dumb idea, only made attractive by selectively making false comparisons with real property which do, one way or another, eventually return to the common planetary stock.

Posted by TMLutas at May 21, 2007 07:43 AM