Thursday, 7 April 2011

#Copyright and my solution to the problem

The blame for this post can be laid firmly at the door of .  It was his tweet that lead me to consider how copyright works, and if there is a better way forward.

Given the time of night that it was asked (note the time of this post and weep for me) there were a few responses.  I expect more will show up later on, but of those there this early in the morning, most seemed able to agree on a couple of things:
  1. Copyright is needed in some form
  2. Current Copyright is not totally suitable for its purpose, generally, the time it protects works for is too long.
I have to say that I agree with the basic premise of copyright.  If you create something, you deserve to have the recognition and money from that item for at least a while. 

It should be up to the creator of the work how and by whom it's distributed, but how long should they have this control for, and how long should they be able to stop other people using and expanding on their basic works for? A further consideration is that if I create a work that can only be copywritten (not sure how copyright declines), it is important that the length of time that I have to make money off of it ensures that its worth me doing it in the first place.

I suggested in the discussion that copyright should encourage those creative types to allow their works to 'go free' after a period of time, by making the period of protection less with each time the protection was taken out. The idea being that from the time a work is first published it would be automatically protected for a number of years. I suggested 10 years on Twitter, but a little more thought has lead me to thinking that maybe 15 might be better. Following this period, a work would have to be registered with a central body, who would be able to keep track of copyright, and provide a central base for knowledge. I believe that the British Library has shown an interest in this sort of thing, but most likely not in this form. There would be a small charge for registering a work to continue to ensure that it was kept in copyright, which should cover costs of running the scheme. Each time of registration would cut the time registered exponentially. This would give the following protections:
  1. 15 years from 1st publication *without* the need to register
  2. 8 further years taking the total to 23 years following 1st publication.
  3. 4 further years taking the total to 27 years following 1st publication.
  4. 2 further years taking the total to 29 years following 1st publication.
  5. 1 further year taking the total to 30 years following 1st publication.
From this point onwards, the copyright could then be resought on an annual basis.  I would remove the maximum period limit that is there now, and make it so that only the original creator of the work could renew the copyright.  At some point it will become uneconomic to continue to renew the copyright, and it would then head into the public domain.

Joint creators would both be able to register a claim on a work, which would then be protected in joint names for as long as each party kept up its registration.  If a party let its registration lapse, then the protection would be continued in the remaining names until they too let their protection lapse.

The death of a copyright holder would not immediately return a work to the public domain.  This would only happen at the end of its current registration period, at which point as they could not renew the registration, it would pass down as per that of joint parties.

The biggest remaining issue that I can see with this is that protection for characters in an ongoing series could end before the final book is written.  I would therefore suggest that protection for ongoing characters like this would start from the publication of the last new work including them by the original author.  Thus if books are published at years 0, 5, 10 and 15, the automatic protection for the characters in the book would continue for a further 15 years, even if no more was done with the first book.

This scheme places a good amount of control of creations in the hands of their creators, whilst allowing a sensible time for them to exploit their works.  Taking the example of an author, I would envisage them signing up to deal with a publisher to publish the book for 15 years at the start.  Few publishers would want to bet on the life of the author, or the authors not falling out with them during the 15 years, and not renewing the copyright.  However, 15 years should be long enough for a company to make a good return on its investment in new creators.

I'm sure that there are many further niggles to this system that I've not spotted, but your thoughts, and constructive criticism of this will be hugely appreciated.  If you have any queries about my proposals, let me know those too, and I'll do my best to formulate an answer for you!

Sleep Well!


  1. How do you intend to handle the problem of works-for-hire?

    My employer is technically the creator of anything I produce during the course of my job, thanks to the contract of employment I signed (which obliges them to give me money in return). Under your scheme, they can renew indefinitely for small money.

    A simple tweak would be to apply exponential growth in fees once you're renewing on an annual basis - say the renewal fee is £10. Your first 5 renewals cost £10 each. Your next renewal, for one more year, is £20. Then £40 for the next year. Then £80, etc. This rapidly grows to £10,240 to renew their 40th year, £10,485,760 for a 50th year, and billions to reach 60 years.


  2. Sorry for the long time in getting back to this, but yes, I like the idea.

    Part of my solution was that only personally named individuals, and not companies could register for control. Whilst this would stop your company from owing the copyright, it would force them to licence it from you, or name an individual within the company who was a 'joint creator'. The idea is to force companies to pay out to the individual who created the work, and for that individual to have the power to put their creation into the public domain at a time of their choosing.

    Your addition would help to ensure that works are put into the public domain sooner, but I do wonder if there ought to be a maximum cap on the cost, even if this is quite high. I think that this is a debate that could rage for ever though.