Exterminate Excessive Copyright Terms!

July 7, 2004 | Intellectual Property, Rants and Raves | By: Mark VandeWettering

Daleks!The BBC is reporting that there will be no Daleks in the latest incarnation of the Dr. Who franchise. It appears that talks between the BBC and the estate of Terry Nation have broken down.

At least here in the United States, copyrights and patents were intended as incentives for individuals to create and extend the useful arts and sciences. Unfortunately, excessive terms (approaching infinite in the case of copyrights) have eroded this idea. As far as I know, Terry Nation will never write another Dalek script. He can’t. He’s dead. No incentives are likely to change this fact in a significant way.

For the past 40 years, Terry Nation and his estate have exercised editorial control over exactly how the Daleks are portrayed in film. That’s my entire lifetime. Is it too much to ask for them to think up some new pony, and cede control of these characters to the public that originally made them popular in the first place?

I know, I know, I’m not talking about what’s legal. I’m trying to talk about restoring the ideal behind the power granted to the government by our Constitution. It was never intended to establish a ceaseless monopoly for authors, artists or inventors. Excessive copyrights have a chilling effect on artistic expression. We all borrow from our collective experiences and cultural icons, and when we are denied access to a large part of our collective experience, ultimately we miss out on experiencing it. Instead, we get to experience only the narrow slivers that IP owners decide to give us. No work which was written in my lifetime or even my mother’s lifetime will enter the public domain for decades, if ever, given the Supreme Court decision to give carte blanche to Congress to indefinitely extend copyright terms.