Response: I’m okay with the claim that copyright is too long. I don’t really see long copyrights as helping creators. I see it more as helping corporations who currently hold the rights. If people want to campaign for shorter copyrights, more power to them.
Personally, I have no intention of keeping my work under copyright for the full duration allowed by law. I’ve toyed with the idea of keeping my work under copyright for seven or ten years. (The original US copyright length was 14 years.)
The part I disagree with is the claim often made next: that the entire copyright system is therefore illegitimate, and pirates are justified in pirating whatever they want. When pirates make this claim, I ask them how long copyright should last. Their answer will fall into one of two categories: either a reasonably long copyright (for example, 10 years or more), or an absurdly short copyright (at which point, I just dismiss them as unreasonable).
For argument’s sake, let’s say that 10 or 20 years is a “reasonable” copyright. I would have significantly more respect for pirates if they respected that “reasonable copyright” length (i.e. if they only pirated materials that are more than 10 years old). The fact that the highest piracy rates are always seen among the most recent digital media (for example, the most pirated movies are always movies that were released with the previous two years*), it makes me think that pirates are (cynically or misguidedly) using their anger about excessively long copyrights as an rationalization to legitimize piracy. In other words, they would be a little disappointed if copyright was shortened because it would rob them of an excuse to get the latest stuff. In that sense, it’s like someone who talks about what a horrible corporation Walmart is, and then uses that as a justification to shoplift from Walmart (“They don’t deserve my money, they deserve to be punished. Shoplifting from them helps me and improves the world by harming an evil corporation. It’s a win-win.”).
* As evidence that pirates want to pirate the latest stuff, not stuff that’s old: Torrent Freak’s “Most Pirated Movies of 2011”: Note that 8 out of 10 of the most pirated movies of 2011 were released in 2011, and the other two were released in September and November of 2010. There’s a very strong pirate bias towards getting the latest stuff. What this indicates to me is that pirates wouldn’t really benefit from a 10 or 20-year copyright, since it’s stuff they aren’t even that interested in pirating.
(1) Fast Five (2011)
(2) The Hangover II (2011)
(3) Thor (2011)
(4) Source Code (2011)
(5) I Am Number Four (2011)
(6) Sucker Punch (2011)
(7) 127 Hours (September 4, 2010)
(8) Rango (2011)
(9) The King’s Speech (November 26, 2010)
(10) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)
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