Books by lawyers are usually very boring. I must admit, I am not objective because I am not a big fan of lawyers. It is not that I think they are not useful, but … well you got the point.
But to my surprise I am reading one that is very interesting and well written at the same time. The book is called Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity from Lawrence Lessig.Central theme of the book is the fact that, due to copyright laws, our culture is becoming more and more blocked. Advancement in many fields like science and arts is based upon the works of others. Quantum mechanics could not have been created without Einstein, even while he objected it (Gott würfelt nicht). People like van Gogh used many of the new techniques and settings that he saw popping up around him. This is the reason why, during periods of transition, people flock together. Te learn by sharing and by taking from each other.
Many of the, now large, organisations like Disney used the culture around them freely to make their art. Disney would have been nowhere without the works of the brothers Grimm. And yet organisations like Disney are the driving force behind laws that stretch Intellectual property rights to 70 years after the death of the author. Of course, every person creating works of art has the right to get paid when it is used by others. People invest time and money into the creation process and due payment is fair. The free in “Free culture” is free like in free speech, not like in free beer or free ride.
An interesting analogy is between this kind of property rights and patents. A patent is valid for 20 years. A pharmaceutical company, once it establishes a patent, is usually still developing and testing for 10 years before they enter the market. Their payback time is therefore 10 years. After that it is a free market and prices go towards the variable production costs. That is 10 years of payback for R&D investments instead of 100 years for copyrights on creative works. Works that sometimes have been created in an afternoon (sometimes with a stroke of genius …). Recently somebody gave me an example where an amateur choir had to pay license fee’s to sing popular songs. In the book an example is given about a TV show set in a radio station that can not be shown anymore because it is impossible to clear all the music rights.
The law should always balance the private and public interests. To me it feels logical that authors do not have an eternal right to their work. Maybe you can even see it as the “coming of age” of the work. Parents have no authority over children that have come of age (normally 18). Maybe the authors should not have any rights once their work has reached the age of 18. After all this time, part of the success of the work is not just the doing of the author but also of all kinds of accidental processes in society. Our processes in our society.
Intellectual property rights should be in the interest of the commons. For this the rights of the creator must be protected to make it worthwhile to create. Not to put a ban on the further development of culture.