My Tuesday night chat with Bryan Crump at RadioNZ's Nights covered copyright and the digital world. The content will be familiar to readers here, and to those who'd taken my Econ 224 course at Canterbury.
Consider further what infinite copyright would look like. There was a great sci fi short story in the 80s called Melancholy Elephants. In that copyright dystopia, all works have to be run through a plagiarism engine to make sure nobody is copying any prior ideas. And they’re considering making the duration of copyright infinite.
In the Melancholy Elephants story, a senator’s backing a bill that would extend copyright to being infinitely lived. Our protagonist warns him that this would mean the end of the creative world: the regime checking all works against anything that had been created within the copyright period had already killed new creation, because everything builds on everything and just about nothing is entirely novel. Extending it to infinity would mean that nothing could be new and, worse, nobody rediscovering things anew would have that joy: they’d quickly be told that somebody else had had the idea 40 years ago and that maybe they’d heard a snippet of the tune when they were a kid. Never forgetting would mean never feeling the thrill of (re)discovery.
Now that short story is fiction from the early 80s. But the lawsuit by Larrikin Music from a few years ago was not. There, Larrikin had bought the rights to an old Aussie folk tune. Men at Work payed homage to that piece of Australiana in Land Down Under in an 11-note flute sequence. And they got sued, and lost. And, subsequently, the suicide of one of the band members was attributed in part to his dismay at having been thought a plagiarist.