Try Not to Weep

Seriously. This is some of the worst news I’ve heard in a long while. Combined with the The Emmanuel’s crackdown on free speech, I am suppressing the urge to scream.

Copyright law in the United States is incredibly complex. This ruling was made to comply with international copyright law, and as such, it makes a drop of sense. But understanding why the ruling passed (6-2) does not make the ruling correct.

This is terrible in so many ways that I cannot even begin to articulate them.

If you’ll allow me to indulge an overly apocalyptic view: What happens if you create a project using public domain works that subsequently pass back into copyright?

Example. James Joyce recently passed into public domain, and Scott and I have shot a multi-million dollar film that combines all of his work into one epic, 120 minute film. It’s called, “James Joyce, All of James Joyce, in One Epic Film.” It’s terrible. It wins an Oscar.

Then, James Joyce is ruled back into copyright. It doesn’t matter why. Maybe Germany changes their copyright law to extend protections to artists for 300 years, and the US reciprocates. Maybe Disney buys Congress again (it’s happened before) and decides this time that they want exclusive control of the collective works of Joyce so that they can create a Disney Princess version of Finnegan’s Wake. What then?

A more realistic worry; it was already – before this ruling – an almost impossible task to determine copyright in many cases. It’s often very hard to determine whether something is, in fact, public domain.

This ruling makes it even harder. Good luck figuring out whether something is in the public domain now.
I could go on. I probably should. I just may, after I finish screaming.

Supreme Court rules Congress can re-copyright public domain works.


2 thoughts on “Try Not to Weep

  1. The moment I heard this “Disney” crossed my mind. They have been on the ropes for years trying to keep public domain scavengers from getting their hands on Mickey Mouse and his Steamboat Willie. I have very little doubt that their lawyers were behind this and millions of dollars worth of “donations”.

  2. You guys should really read the dissenting opinion of the court. You have to scroll down about 70% of the document (which is linked in the Wired article). It is chock full of good opinion and historical background, such as:
    ” Thomas Jefferson, for example, initially expressed great uncertainty as to whether the Constitution should authorize the grant of copyrights and patents at all, writing that “the benefit
    even of limited monopolies is too doubtful” to warrant
    anything other than their “suppression.” Letter from
    Thomas Jefferson to James Madison (July 31, 1788)”

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