Robbed

A Reading Note

Patry digs into the evidence about copyright renewals and uncovers what every honest book publisher already knew:

The failure to renew was an empirical, market signal about the value that copyright owners themselves placed on copyright. The renewal rates also showed a consistent difference in renewal rates for classes of works. The lowest renewal rates (0.4 percent) were for technical drawings, lectures, sermons, and other oral works. The highest renewal rate was for motion pictures (74 percent). Music was 48 percent and books only 7 percent. Our current one-size-fits-all approach ignores this significant data about how copyright owners have themselves valued copyright. Based on this evidence, the correct term of copyright should vary depending on the type of material being protected, with books getting a shorter term than motion pictures.

Patry, How to Fix Copyright, page 205

Even with a term of copyright of only fourteen years (the original term in the States), most books would not be renewed, because most books are no longer worth much after that period of time. Failing to let them come into the public domain only makes them inaccessible—that is, invisible. A book can have an immense cultural value for centuries past the point at which it’s already anemic financial value has passed. The obscene copyright term now in place serves no financial gain, and yet manages to rob us nonetheless.

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How to Fix Copyright

William Patry

Patry is senior copyright counsel at Google, and despite the upfront disclaimer, this book defines a vision of copyright that clearly benefits the world’s biggest search engine.