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No ukulele practice today. Unless I practice later. It was raining this morning so I didn’t bother bringing it with me to work. It’s pretty nice now with fluffy cotton ball clouds against the painted blue backdrop of sky outside my window. Almost could be a realistic augmented reality projection.

Value of Intellectual Property

Intellectual property (IP) is valuable. Very valuable according to governments around the world.

The Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: 2016 Update reported that IP-intensive industries support “at least 45 million U.S. jobs and contribute more than $5 trillion dollars to, or 38.2 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product.” Copyright-intensive industries account for 5.6 million jobs (as opposed to trademark-intensive or patent-intensive jobs). Copyright-intensive jobs account for over 15 million jobs in the European Union. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Guide on Surveying the Economic Contribution of the Copyright Industries states “Copyright has taken center stage in public debates about access to information, and its relevance to daily life and to business operations has attracted the keen interest of most stakeholders in the creative economy.” (2015, p. 7). According to the WIPO the average contribution to national GDP averages 5.48 percent, and contribution to employment averaging 5.34 percent. – Ryan M. Williams, THE GLOBALIZATION OF COPYRIGHT: IMPACTS AND CHALLENGES

That figure, 38.2% of the GDP is an impressive figure and focuses on IP-intensive industries including those based on the patent, trademark, and copyright (the three methods of controlling IP) industries.

Many companies today seek unencumbered IPs that they can control. Simply having an IP adds to the company’s valuation whether they intend to do anything with the IP. It is an asset. The last thing that any company wants to do is give up an asset.

Back when copyright first was established, in the age of metal set type, printers controlled the system. Copyright shifted control from the printers guilds to the authors and established it as a right of authors to control the reproduction of their work.

A chief concern at the time was limiting the copyright to a reasonable time. The government rejected the call for a perpetual copyright and started out with a 14 year period, with the option of a single 14-year renewal. That expanded to 28 years with a 14-year renewal. The Constitution states the need to limit the period.

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The establishment of the Berne Convention shifted the period to the author’s life plus 50 years and removed registration and manufacturing requirements. Not that the United States agreed, that took until 1988, because the US easily enjoyed protections under Berne while remaining free to pirate titles.

Since that time, US copyright law has extended the period to the author’s life plus 70 years. The Supreme Court decided that as long as the term isn’t unlimited it is ‘limited.’ This bit of sophistry conveniently ignores the public interest in works entering the public domain. But when the Mouse talks, people listen. The decision opens the door for a functionally unlimited copyright so long as Congress doesn’t call it ‘unlimited,’ ‘forever,’ or ‘perpetual’. Anything short of infinity is limited. Every couple decades Congress can pass a new extension retroactively adding another twenty years. Or fifty years. A hundred years. It makes no difference because you can still point to that so-called limit.

In the meantime, the public interest is overlooked. Works entering the public domain enriches our civilization. It fuels invention, creativity, and new discoveries. By allowing what is essentially a corporate chokehold on IP, the public is denied access to materials that should be freely available.

Intellectual property is valuable. And it’s about time that we address these issues and restore a truly limited copyright that addresses the public interest.

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This blog post by Ryan M. Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.