At our distance education class this past week Carl Johnson from BYU copyright came and visited our class to discuss copyright issues and education. This had obvious implications for the course I'm taking in Open Education as well.
It was interesting to me that Carl seemed to promote the use of Creative Commons licenses and author rights. Although he was careful to say that he needed promote the interests of both authors and the university in general, he seemed to feel that a day of open-access was coming and that there are lots of benefits in this regard.
In the Open Ed class I was made aware of a comment by a member of BYU's legal counsel who said that on both professional and personal reasons he supported Creative Commons. I'm obviously spending too much time hanging out with open-access people but I started to wonder to myself, "What would happen if copyright was done away with?" Or, more practically, dramatically reduced?
For me as an author would I care? No--it seems doubtful that anything of value that I create will not be worthy guarding 10 years from now. But what if? What if I became like JK Rowling and came up with a slam dunk, home run of a story. How would JK Rowling feel if copyright ended after ten years. What would that mean?
So I could publish cheap versions of the Harry Potter books. That would be bad for JK Rowling (no longer receives royalties) and bad for the publisher (too much competition now). Would it wreck the brand of Harry Potter? Not likely. If somebody publishes Harry Potter 8 and it stinks, nobody will buy it. If on the other hand it is an amazing piece of work, I'd be grateful for new culture (though Ms. Rowling might not be).
What percentage of works are like mine, and what percentage are like Rowlings? An interesting finding by James Boyle in his book The Public Domain is the following: "We know that when U.S. copyright required renewal after twenty-eight years, about 85 percent of all copyright holders did not bother to renew."
Isn't that amazing! Boyle states that this can be viewed as an approximation of commercial viability. So if after 28 years people don't renew, it's likely that it wasn't worth it.
I wonder how many years copyright would need to be in place in order for half of people to bother renewing it. Let's suppose that it was ten years.
If that were the case, what if a mechanism was set in place so that copyright expired after ten years; however, those who wanted to renew could renew the copyright by paying a nominal (15$) fee. And they could renew it every 10 years until death. And as long as I'm proposing new policy, what if we made it so that nothing was copyrighted unless the author specifically asked for the copyright to be in place by affixing a little logo to the work.
Although others have pushed for a less radical solution, this is what I am proposing today. :)
This review of Lessig's book Remix also had some helpful insights for thinking about copyright.