Shorter Copyright Terms Should Meet Berne Minimums, Ross Argues
WASHINGTON D.C. - Those seeking to reform the U.S. copyright system must acknowledge U.S. obligations under international copyright treaties, argues Patrick Ross, Senior Fellow Vice President for Communications and External Affairs, in "How Long is Long Enough? Copyright Term Extensions and the Berne Convention," a new Progress on Point released today by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. In the paper, Ross cites the significant benefit to U.S. artists and the U.S. economy resulting from copyright treaties with more than 160 nations, and warns that many copyright reform proposals would place the U.S. in violation of those treaties.
In the paper, the author identifies two common approaches to copyright law, utilitarian and "natural rights." While sympathetic to the latter, he notes that utilitarians, including many economists and legal scholars, are skeptical of the 1998 Copyright Term Extensions Act, which added twenty years to the minimum "life-plus-fifty years" of protection required under the Berne Convention. While conceding utilitarians may have a point in calling for a rollback of the CTEA to the Berne minimum, he is skeptical that going beyond that, and forfeiting international treaty protection for U.S. artists, is a wise move. He takes a similar approach to those who would return to a system of requiring registration of works, or having works default into a low-fee collective license for copyright owners that fail to "voluntarily" register works. Ross sees these proposals as counter to the Berne Convention prohibition on formalities and harmful to artists.
Ross concludes that the U.S. has much to lose and little to gain from opting out of international treaties and joining the likes of Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen. "In a global economy, harmonization of copyright is critical, as Victor Hugo and Mark Twain knew more than a century ago. We have that harmonization today, with almost every nation of any economic significance belonging to the Berne Convention. Any utilitarian who feels our copyright protections last too long must not obfuscate the fact that Berne exists, that the U.S. is committed to it, and that it brings U.S. creators much-needed intellectual property protection worldwide."
Separately, Ross had an editorial today published in the online journal Brainwash on net neutrality. In urging caution regarding implementing new rules to regulate the Internet, Ross cites the Nobel speech of F.A. Hayek and his caution of a "pretense to knowledge" about what the future may hold and what consequences may occur from a set of actions.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.