Public domain

I found a rather spectacular article on copyright while reading about the [Copyright Term Extension Act] 1:

Scott M. Martin, “The Mythology of the Public Domain: Exploring the Myths Behind Attacks on the Duration of Copyright Protection”, Sep 24, 2002.

There’s no shortage of absurdity, but here’s one of the highlights:

At the risk of speaking words of heresy, it is copyright protection that encourages innovation and creativity, while the public domain discourages both innovation and creativity. Why create something new if you can reprint or reuse something that already exists? Why invest in untested new works if you can instead distribute royalty-free existing works?

The fact that creators of new works cannot merely re-use the expression contained in copyrighted work of others without permission forces them to be creative. Composers cannot rehash the melodies created by earlier composers, they must create their own new original melodies. Writers must invent new characters and plots instead of recycling the efforts of others. Animators and motion picture studios cannot freeload on Mickey Mouse; copyright protection forces them to create their own original cartoon characters. This promotion of fresh creation is an entirely appropriate goal for Congress to pursue through legislation.

Yes: he’s arguing that public domain is actually a bad thing by itself, even ignoring the trade-off between whether a work is copyrighted or free. I.e., it is the legitimate job of the government to mandate creativity directly by disallowing reuse of existing work. Without this forced creativity, artists would just sell existing art.


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