Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Math Patents Your Rights Online

Optimum Copyright Period Decided by Math 442

Posted by Zonk
from the everybody-wins dept.
An anonymous reader writes "So how long should a copyright be valid for? A Cambridge student has stepped into the discussion with a dispassionately calculated estimate of the optimal period a copyright should be granted. Ars' point of view: 'Neither the US nor the UK are in any danger of rethinking copyright law from scratch, but if they were looking for guidance in how to set up their systems, Pollock has it. He develops a set of equations focused specifically on the length of copyright and uses as much empirical data as possible to crunch the numbers. The result? An optimal copyright term of 14 years, which is designed to encourage the best balance of incentive to create new work and social welfare that comes from having work enter the public domain (where it often inspires new creative acts).' The original paper is available (pdf) online."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Optimum Copyright Period Decided by Math

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:27AM (#19847915)
    That the founders of the United States were geniuses... or lucky bastards.
    • by hey! (33014) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:09AM (#19848313) Homepage Journal
      They were lucky they were geniuses.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mateo_LeFou (859634)
      hence the Ron Paul campaign.
    • by frankie (91710) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:25AM (#19848459) Journal

      Don't any of you get it? Infinite, retroactive copyright extension is the ONLY way to enrich our cultural heritage of creative works. If the rights-holding corporations like Disney ever lose control of their money-making "intellectual properties", then some day they are likely to go bankrupt (fiscally, that is). And when that happens in our bleak dystopian future, their angry stock-holders will seize a time machine, go back to the 1920s, and convince Walt to never create his characters in the first place, since it clearly won't be a worthwhile investment of his effort.

      Sheesh, why do I have to spell this stuff out for you people? It's the only logical conclusion.

      • by mhall119 (1035984) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:49AM (#19848743) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, I know this was a joke, but I still need to point something out. This is talking about expiration of copyright, not trademark. So the animation "Steam boat Willy" would fall into the public domain, but the character "Mickey Mouse" would still be a Disney trademark, so nobody else could create new content with "Mickey Mouse" in it, or even a character that could easily be confused with Mickey Mouse. Therefore Walt's characters would still make be making money, as long as Disney keeps making new content, since that gets a new copyright protection.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by westlake (615356)
          the animation "Steam boat Willy" would fall into the public domain, but the character "Mickey Mouse" would still be a Disney trademark

          Steamboat Willie (1928) is eight minutes of silent-era sight gags with a thin narrative thread.

          Nitrate stock. Synchronized Cinephone [wikipedia.org] sound-on-disk.

          That makes the original an artifact for MoMA and the Library of Congress.
          The digital restoration on Disney DVD: $15 Vintage Mickey [moviegoldmine.com]

          The expiration of copyright gives you the right to produce derivatives based on the characters

    • by langelgjm (860756) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:28AM (#19848491) Journal
      The AC is referring to the fact that in the Copyright Act of 1790 (the US's first), the term of copyright was set at 14 years, and after expiration, could be renewed for another 14: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Act_of_1790 [wikipedia.org]

      Unfortunately, the interests that controlled the tiny minority of works that continued to be profitable after 28 years, then 56 years, lobbied for and got legislation that extended the term of all works.
    • by nuttycom (1016165) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:43AM (#19848671)

      That the founders of the United States were geniuses... or lucky bastards.

      Had they truly been geniuses in the sense you suggest, they'd have specified the algorithm for determination of the copyright period, instead of just the value.

      I've often wished that the founders of the states had been smart enough to describe an apolitical algorithm for determination of the boundaries for congressional districts as well. Or had been smart enough to realize that plurality voting systems (instead of ranked or condorcet methods) would ultimately result in the creation of an entrenched two-party duopoly from which there appears to be no escape.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MoxFulder (159829)

        Or had been smart enough to realize that plurality voting systems (instead of ranked or condorcet methods) would ultimately result in the creation of an entrenched two-party duopoly from which there appears to be no escape.

        Everyone loves to hate that entrenched two-party duopoly, and I don't think the Founding Fathers intended it... but I think it's done a lot towards ensuring the stability and prosperity of the USA in the long view.

        A plurality system inexorably pushes politicians towards the center, rather

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I agree, an algorithm would be a superior tool to determine these things. However whenever money is involved, over enough time people find ways to corrupt the original intent to suit their needs. Even if the founders had specified the best way of determining copyright length, over the last 200 years copyright holders (having the most to gain and therefor putting in the most effort) would have found loopholes one way or another. Just like code you can start with a clear philosophy but if you let enough time
    • by langelgjm (860756) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:53AM (#19848777) Journal
      They were neither geniuses or lucky bastards - they were thieves. That figure of 14 years in the Copyright Act of 1790 was most likely copied - no, STOLEN - from England's Statute of Anne, dating to 1709. What a blatant violation of intellectual property!
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:27AM (#19847917)
    The optimum copyright period is decided by Disney.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Now on DVD: a rerelease of the Little Mermaid, beautifully restored by replacing the color orange with yellow!
    • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:36AM (#19847985)
      Since we know that Disney (and others) will lobby against anything other than their eternal copyrights, we need to plan for that.

      If you have have property that you want protected, then you should PAY for that protection after the standard protection period has expired.

      99%+ of book titles won't be sold 15 years after their release. So there's no financial incentive for their authors to protect them. But with Disney and others, their "property" is worth millions of dollars. So charge them 5% of the estimated value. Every year.

      If you are an author and you want to keep protecting your book, are you willing to pay 5% a year of the sales from the last year? Or should it be 1%?

      Otherwise it falls into the Public Domain.
      • by rthille (8526) <web-slashdot.rangat@org> on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:49AM (#19848115) Homepage Journal
        Interesting idea, but where would the money go? Wouldn't it just go to a bureaucracy to manage and ensure that the copyright holders are paying? If it did turn out to be feasible, I'd say the percentage should go up over time, so that eventually the percentage would rise to 100% and the copyright holder would have no incentive to keep the work from the public domain.
      • Isn't keeping 95% of your sales better than not having any sales? I mean, even if you're only selling $5,000 worth of merchandise annually, it might be worth renewing through this scheme so that you can keeping get (most) of that $5k. I'd suggest modifying your scheme with a flat fee of a few thousand dollars plus 5% of revenue, or something like that.

        Of course, all of this assumes that the copyright is mainly intended to protect sales, and although that's probably the case for most instances, it's not th

        • by Firethorn (177587) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:06AM (#19848285) Homepage Journal
          I'd have to agree with this. A straight percentage rate wouldn't work too well - 5% of 0 is still 0, easy to pay.

          Now a Flat fee of $1k/year to keep a movie* copyright free. Studios such as MGM would have to pay millions a year to keep their products under copyright, eventually the accountants would point out that OldMovies 1-100 aren't making $1k, there's no guarantee that they'd make $1k if released on DVD, so they let the copyright expire.

          I'd have the fee vary, and go up over time. For example - $10/year for a book, for the second 20 years of copyright(the first 20 are free).

          Note: All numbers are approximate.

          *original audiovisual production in excess of 60 minutes, (by original I mean not just a tweaked remix)
      • better yet, simply tax the income from "post-deadline" copyrights works at some increased rate. And make the law simple enough so that they can't get out of it through some loophole.
      • by Dausha (546002)
        Too bad that's not an original idea. I posted something similar to /. several years ago.
        • It's not like either of us copied your idea. I will even assume that he didn't copy my idea, because my idea was a flat fee after 20 years instead of a percentage (which makes much more sense). Maybe next time you can patent your idea, (we'll call it the intelligent reform of IP law Patent) and then sue everyone else who thinks of your simple, logical idea.

          On a serious note, I do think that a system like this is the best way to deal with copyright madness. Because of the Berne convention it really n
      • very interesting/insightful, though I would make sure there was a flat base cost as well, to make sure people don't persistantly do this, make sure if they do this, it's worth doing.

        after the initial free protection for 15 years (make it a rounded number), every 5 years, there is an option to renew for $1000, which will extend the protection for 5 years. However, during the additional 5 years of protection there is a 5% tax on gross from the product as well. These taxes go to pay for the copyright agencies
        • Oh, and its $5000+15% if the copyright holder isn't the original creator, that should also make it a bit more fair.
      • Estimated sales are difficult to come up with; even actual sales can be obscured through various accounting mechanisms (e.g. movies never have profits so "percentage of the profits" is a loser's share). Perhaps a better approach would be a simple fee, say US$10, that increases by a set percentage, say 20%, each year after the 14 year standard period. By the 95th year after release, a corporation would be paying US$26 million per year to keep the property in action.

        Money's got to go somewhere, though. Ma

      • not a flat rate (Score:5, Interesting)

        by doug (926) on Friday July 13, 2007 @11:25AM (#19850053)
        I would like to see something like a monotonically increasing (progressive) renewal/filing-fee every five years, where the first five years would cost $1, the second $10, the third $100, and so forth. To get 15 years (pretty close to 14), the cumulative cost is on $111 which most will agree isn't much money. To increase that to 30 years, three more chunks would cost $111,000, which would be more than the marginal value of almost all works. Another four renewals to bring it up 50 years is going to cost $1,111,000,000, which is absolutely insane. No work would be kept out of the public domain that long.

        The advantage of this system is that the copyright owner has some choice as to how long to keep it protected/monopolized. If a work is profitable, then the owner can decided to invest in it and extend the copyright for a while. Due to the ever increasing cost, sooner or later extending the copyright will be a bad investment and then it goes into the public domain.

        A pet peeve of mine is non-original ownership of copyrights. I can see where Walt Disney (the individual) wanted exclusive rights for his work with Mickey Mouse, but since he is dead, any new Mickey Mouse material is made by someone else. I don't see why the Walt Disney corporation should have any more rights than anyone else. I understand that companies might own the rights, but that should be to shelter/protect the individual creator so he can milk that cow a bit longer. But once anyone else gets involved in the creativity process, is should be fair game for everyone. Too bad that isn't how the modern world works.

        - doug
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iminplaya (723125)
        If you have have property that you want protected, then you should PAY for that protection after the standard protection period has expired.

        Of course. If IP holders want exclusivity they should pay a property tax. Based on a value assessed the same way the it's done on "real" property. Seems only fair. And they should have to deal with all the different rates applied in each locality the product is being protected. Just might make the game a bit more interesting. It doesn't seem right that I pay a tax on my
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      How unfortunately true this statement is.
      Ever wondered why Disney keeps rereleasing those classics from the "Disney Vault"?
      For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_Bono_Copyright_ Term_Extension_Act [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      True.

      As a peon freelance photographer, 14 years is plenty for me. I doubt it would diminish my for hire work or that of most of my peers.

      I still don't see why the Slashdot crowd cares one way or the other about the length of copyright terms, apart from it providing an opportunity to post generic anti-copyright rambling without being moderated offtopic. No sensible balance between creators and consumers will have a measurable impact on the geek oriented practice of file sharing. Most of the popular content m
      • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`Satanicpuppy' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:52AM (#19848137) Journal
        Because source code falls under copyright law, and they want things like the original windows code released to the public domain. If the source is never released it never falls into the public domain: you can copy the program forever, but you'll never really be able to look at it.

        They're also into music and movies, and file trading, and all these things are impacted by long copyrights. Things like Google's "Scan every library in existence" scheme could be infinitely cooler if your search would bring you the full text of the actual book, and it could do that for a vast number of books if the copyrights were relaxed.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by jlarocco (851450)

          Because source code falls under copyright law, and they want things like the original windows code released to the public domain. If the source is never released it never falls into the public domain: you can copy the program forever, but you'll never really be able to look at it.

          It doesn't work that way. Even if an early version of Windows went public domain, Microsoft still doesn't have to release the source code. You'd be able to copy the disks as much as you wanted, but the code would only be avail

        • Ok then. Maker sense.

          I suppose I just expect every fron page story even peripherally related to copyright to devolve into some immature rant about the RIAA.

          I can see the angle for books. Science journals as well, considering the cost to read anything other abstracts is too much to bear for an individual.
      • by iplayfast (166447) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:52AM (#19848141)
        I still don't see why the Slashdot crowd cares one way or the other about the length of copyright terms

        It's because the slashdot crowd is concerned about freedoms, and freedoms lost.
        It's because many in the slashdot crowd believe in standing on the shoulder's of giants to make their own works. (which can't be done with the current copyright).
      • First of all, it points out that what is optimal for one medium (writing) might not be optimal for another (photography), even if in this case it might be. Secondly, if you have an old photograph of your parents, grandparents, etc., that you want to copy, you shouldn't have to worry about tracking down copyright permissions.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by FLEB (312391)
          That brings in a whole new hairball, too, because if you legislate differences between media, it all gets shaken up when some new medium comes into play that's "a little bit of this and a little bit of that (oh... and on the Internet, patent)".
      • I still don't see why the Slashdot crowd cares one way or the other about the length of copyright terms, apart from it providing an opportunity to post generic anti-copyright rambling without being moderated offtopic.

        That's because the Slashdot crowd has a lot of programmers in it, and the lines of code we write is also covered by copyright. The entire free-software movement greatly depends on copyright laws. In addition, copyright is one part of the mess of "IP" that has become a political issue, with "IP"
        • by Ravnen (823845) on Friday July 13, 2007 @12:46PM (#19851021)
          Ironically, longer copyright protection is arguably more valuable to the Free Software movement than it is to commercial software developers who publish their works in binary form. With a 14-year copyright length, for example, Windows NT 3.1 would soon enter the public domain, but since only binaries were published, free access to it would be of little value. In contrast, all of the GNU software from the same period was published in source form, and with the expiry of its copyright, would become free for commercial developers to use in closed source software.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Which of course is long enough for the entire Disney back catalog to fit, but not so long that the family of the Grimm brothers could have any claim on cinderella etc.
    • No no no. (Score:4, Funny)

      by Ihlosi (895663) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:46AM (#19848077)
      The optimum copyright period is decided by Disney.



      They're not deciding anything, they're just following the good old nuclear fusion approach:

      It's just twenty years away ...

    • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:55AM (#19848171) Homepage Journal
      Bah. Disney is a Mickey Mouse operation.
    • In the US, the lifetime of copyright is decided by Disney.
      In Soviet Russia, the lifetime of Disney is decided by copyright.

      Strange... did our economy turn into communism? I kinda feel this might hold some water here, too...
  • B b b but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by timeOday (582209) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:29AM (#19847931)
    My daddy had a hit song on the radio, so I deserve to never work a day in my life!
    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:37AM (#19847991)
      I'm sorry, but the sentence you just used is copyrighted by Hank Williams, Jr.

      Consider yourself sued, buddy!

      • by hey! (33014)
        Which explains why he's out of step with his friends:

        All my rowdy friends have settled down and it seems to be more in the laid back songs./
        Nobody wants to get drunk and get loud. Everybody just wants to go back home./
        I myself have seen my wilder days and I have seen my name at the top of the page,/
        but I need to find a friend just to run around.But no one wants to get high on the town/
        and all my rowdy friends have settled down.

        On the other hand, maybe he ought to start hanging out with the Bush twins.

    • Huh? I think it's a tired argument that one shouldn't get recurring income from a work. No one gets enough money from one song, or one book or any single work to live off it for the rest of their lives. It shouldn't be that way anyway, but pretending such a situation exists right now is ludicrous. Usually, the up-front payment for a published work only makes for a barely higher than livable wage anyway, and in exchange, they get royalties for their work investment if it continues to sell.

      I'm fine with a
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cerelib (903469)
        You are thinking of the wrong people. Somebody makes money from the ridiculous ASCAP/BMI fees that are being extracted from American companies. The problem with the system is that there are too many middlemen riding the copyright profits wave.
      • It shouldn't be that way anyway, but pretending such a situation exists right now is ludicrous. Usually, the up-front payment for a published work only makes for a barely higher than livable wage anyway, and in exchange, they get royalties for their work investment if it continues to sell.

        There are many examples of children of authors who continue to fight to make money off their parent's work, whether their parents were authors, musicians, or whatever. I believe that's what the GP post was alluding to. T

      • No one gets enough money from one song, or one book or any single work to live off it for the rest of their lives.

        Care to tell that to the goons that dictate the current kind of music? I might be old, but to me all that crap sounds the same.
  • Good Stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:30AM (#19847937) Journal
    This Rufus Pollock has some good stuff [rufuspollock.org] on his site. I've only had about ten minutes to read over a few of these papers and I'm pretty impressed. Not only is it well written but it aligns heavily with the Slashdot community's interests. For example, the conclusion of his paper The Value of the Public Domain ends with these policy recommendations (the most interesting, in my opinion, is bolded):
    • * When formulating policy the key variable to consider should be social value, which is the sum of commercial value and user value, rather than commercial value alone (in economist's terminology: welfare rather than national income).
    • * When looking at the value of knowledge goods in general, and the public domain in particular, policy makers should take account of the value generated by complementary products and services.
    • * Historically, innovation policy, particularly in relation to intellectual property, is characterized by extensive rent-seeking activity and significant imbalances in power. It is important that this be taken into account in policy making, for example by the provision of a clear set of principles that could safeguard groups that are poorly represented (such as the general public). The public domain while very important to society tends to lack a concentrated set of stakeholders to defend it, compared, for example, to the copyright-based industries.
    • * For some of the categories of works currently covered by copyright, for example music, the introduction of open access along with some form of alternative compensation system promises to deliver significant gains both to creators and to consumers.
    • * Access and preservation of older copyrighted works is a significant problem and should be addressed. This could be done in several, potentially complementary ways, including: introduction of a registration requirement, orphan works provisions, and a reduction in copyright term.
    • * In areas such as open source software and technology standards the first principle should be "do no harm". In particular, it is imperative that policy makers maintain, and strengthen, the exclusion of software and business methods from patentability.
    • * Make public sector information open. This is one of the most direct, and straightforward actions governments can take in promoting the public domain, and it is one that the available evidence suggests will have large benefits both to industry and to the general public.
    He also attempts to show through economic theory that "that a dominant firm may engage in considerable expenditure to maintain its position and the welfare consequences of so doing may be considerable.

    Also interesting is that he conjectures that the burden of proof of ownership in intellectual property should be placed on those attempting to acquire the IP, not anyone else [rufuspollock.org].

    He has a paper detailing a model where innovation occurs without intellectual property [rufuspollock.org] in an attempt to show that the assumption regarding IP's relationship to innovation is false.

    Very interesting stuff, to say the least, most of it quite logical which means, of course, that it will be completely ignored by politicians and policy makers.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DFDumont (19326)
      I'd also like to note that not all creators are motivated economically. Nearly all of the open-source efforts run on achieving notoriety and this is basically impossible to quantify in economic terms.
      Thus I would hate to build policy solely on economic constraints.

      Dennis Dumont
    • by pieterh (196118) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:48AM (#19848103) Homepage
      Although the process is slow, policy makers do eventually catch up with new realities. Or rather, they retire and die and are replaced by younger minds that think differently.

      What we're looking at, IMO, is the transition of social, economic, and finally, political power from the industrial revolution to the digital revolution. People like Rufus are today defining the theoretical basis for laws that will be enacted in twenty or fifty years' time.

      What is happening, broadly is that a new society is forming around the digitalisation of culture. This society is vast and now includes perhaps half the world's population (3bn SIM cards are in use globally). The new society drives new businesses like Google and Ebay, and in a decade, this digital economy will have become more important than the industrial economy. And at some stage the digital economy will reach for political power.

      This happened before, in the industrial revolution, and at that time the old upper class - landowners - tried to stop the growth of the new industrial middle class with laws like the Corn Laws. They ultimately failed, and the urban middle class finally got the vote.

      My prediction is that the digital revolution will culminate in a transfer of power from the old political / industrial elite (who are the ones that made today's copyright and patent laws) to a new elite that will create new models of property that suit it much better.

      It is feasible to already implement 14-year copyright today, by private contract. E.g. this could be implemented in a GPL-style license. It may be that private legal systems like the GPL become the laws of tomorrow.

      Rufus has done a brilliant work in turning the "more is better" dogma of IP upside down and giving us a tool to quantify exactly what is needed.
      • by Silver Sloth (770927) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:00AM (#19848211)
        The difference is that the rate of change is increasing beyond exponentially. It may be nice to be 'defining the theoretical basis for laws that will be enacted in twenty or fifty years' time. but the PC is barely 25 years old, mass internet usage is less than 10 years old and the ability to bulk copy and distribute media less than that. I'm not sure we have the time to wait 20 - 50 years to sort it out.
      • The difference is that the turnover of politicians is not in sync with the advent and decline of ideas and ideologies anymore. During the industrial revolution, you had a generation (of politicians and people) to react. It took a good 20-30 years to actually push through. Today, it's more like 2-3 years for a technology or a certain position to gain momentum or power.

        Think of copyright. 10 years ago, it wasn't a big issue. Sure, a few complained, a few cared, but most people didn't even know what they may c
    • For some of the categories of works currently covered by copyright, for example music, the introduction of open access along with some form of alternative compensation system promises to deliver significant gains both to creators and to consumers.

      That all seems delightful, but I have yet to see a workable system that would bring this about. I'd like to think that after every The Black Keys show those guys go back to their hotel rooms and find a bag of money has mysteriously appeared on the nightstand, but I know that doesn't happen because I watch half the audience bail out as soon as the music stops, without buying a CD or a shirt and maybe they drank a couple beers that the Keys will get a half a cent out of.

      How that is going to be any different

  • Dispassionate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by just_another_sean (919159) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:30AM (#19847943) Homepage Journal

    ...a dispassionately calculated estimate
    If only all important political discusions and decisions could use techniques like this. It's refreshing to see someone take some of the "but artists are starving and may soon be forced to eat babies" out of the debate.

    • Dispassionate does not mean non-biased. There has to be certain assumptions made behind various calculations, and the author is likely biased in a particular way. He has already written various essays and papers promoting ip reform before undertaking this particular paper. This is not to say he is wrong, but "dispassionate" doesn't mean he is right. He is like an expert witness at a trial, he is trying to be technically correct as possible but he is still siding with a particular viewpoint.

      Personally I thin
      • Actually... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hey! (33014) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:53AM (#19848783) Homepage Journal

        Dispassionate does not mean non-biased.


        Actually, it does [reference.com]:

        dispassionate /dspænt/
        -adjective
        free from or unaffected by passion; devoid of personal feeling or bias; impartial; calm: a dispassionate critic.


        Now, this is a different kettle of fish entirely:

        There has to be certain assumptions made behind various calculations, and the author is likely biased in a particular way.


        What you're arguing in effect precludes any notion of objective truth, since every assertion is either an assumption or based on other things that are. And every person who argues anything at all has some personal biases. However this doesn't make his arguments empty or imply they must be biased by his personal preferences. This is a familiar position to me from arguing with my postmodernist friends. I'm not against postmodernism, Like Milton, I think any idea is healthy food for a strong and healthy mind. Yet I find that people exclusively educated in that style lack a certain respect for the value of data. And how we handle data is very important to whether we are being dispassionate or not.

        This is one of the big problems with the modern media: it cannot distinguish balancing facts from balancing opinions. If they feature a evolutionary biologist, they "balance" that by presenting a creationist, as if their views were equally valid alternatives. In part this is driven by economics: weighing facts is much harder and slower than trotting out somebody who simply disagrees. We're talking about the difference between building something with legos and building them with raw stock and a machine shop.

        The problem with strong emotions is that they narrow our ability to process information. In the grip of passions, we unconsciously filter out data which would alter our emotional state. When we're angry, we ignore data that would calm us and focus on data that makes us angrier. When we're fearful, we focus on data that scares us and disregard data that would make us feel safe.

        So a dispassionate argument is not one that has no viewpoint; it is one that is impartial with the facts. It may discount certain facts and place greater significance on others, but it does so consciously with an identifiable justification. It is therefore negatable by negating its justifications and altering its selection of facts.

        This is not to say he is wrong, but "dispassionate" doesn't mean he is right. He is like an expert witness at a trial, he is trying to be technically correct as possible but he is still siding with a particular viewpoint.


        For that matter non-biased doesn't mean right either. It is quite possible to disagree with the conclusions of a dispassionate and unbiased argument, provided that you (a) have facts available to you that the person arguing does not or (b) disagree with explicit assumptions the person is working with.

        Example: people who believe in intellectual property as a fundamental but alienable right (like most people consider the right to personal property) might well agree with every fact in this paper. But if they disagree with the assumption that copyright is about maximizing utility, the argument while valid, is wrong. It wouldn't matter if he showed that copyright terms of any age were automatically harmful to the public good because their assumptions is that the public good does not take precedence over individual property rights in any situation.

        Now we all engage in wishful thinking, in which we can have our cake and eat it too. We can believe that rights are paramount, but that pursing individual rights always maximizes public utility. Or vice versa. But this is biased, passionate thinking. We have a powerful, unjustifiable and implicit axiom at work, which is that our preferred approach can give us everything we wish for. That is when we should be called out for bias.
    • by cnettel (836611)
      On the other hand, from glancing over his calculations, the point seems to be that the welfare created is dependent on the total number of copies ('copies' + 'originals') of the works in existence, and some arguments that new works are less valuable as there already exist so many of them. Again, this was only a very quick browsing through the article, but what I would argue that the total welfare is also dependent on the total number of "valuable" works in existence. His argument seems to be that the greate
    • Often they do (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:29AM (#19848503) Journal
      Actually, it looks to me like just a variation of the popular "have a pre-conceived result you want to reach, then massage logic and numbers to reach it." In this case, outright proposing "my formula says get rid of IP completely" (which he seems to be busy arguing the rest of the time) would have looked suspicious, while "hey, the original 14 year idea was right, let's go back to that" is something that's actually very easy to swallow. So let's massage the maths to support that.

      I'm sorry, I'll

      A) have trouble taking someone seriously as doing dispassionate objective maths when the rest of the time they're on a crusade against copyright and copyright extensions. It's akin to trusting a Sony fanboy to give you a scientific and dispassionate estimate as to which console is the best. But more importantly,

      B) the data he feeds into those formulas is based on guessed numbers. E.g., for the rate of decay, depending on who you choose to believe, in his own paper the estimates range from 2% to 10%. He chooses 5% as the number to go with, but the important thing to realize is that it's just a guess. The accuracy of that number is remarkably low.

      To give you an example of how inacurate that is: for something that decays by 2% per year, after 16 years you've lost only almost 28% of the original value. At 5%, after 16 years you've lost 56% of the original value. At 10% in 16 years you've lost 81% of the value. (I'm using 16 instead of 14 just because I'm too lazy to do more than press the X^2 button in xcalc 4 times. Should be enough for example purposes.) The effects being literally exponential, such a wild inaccuracy is multiplied incredibly. You can produce a wildly different "ideal number of years" by just choosing slightly different guessed numbers to input in those formulas.

      C) I see nowhere a calculation of the error margins. As a corolary of B, what's more interesting for such a calculation with wildly guessed numbers isn't just one value reached with the most likely guess, but what is the _interval_ of plausible results. If you've fed data which could be anything between 2% and 10%, then what is the result for 2% and what is the result for 10%, for a start. Don't give me the result just for 5%. And that's just one of the values there.

      Basically what I'm saying is that even if you trust the formulas to be correct, the insanely large intervals of believable values means you can get almost any number you want to get there, just by picking different guessed numbers. You can use the same formula to get any number between 2-3 years (if you chose to believe everything devalues extremely fast, and everything creates incredible value in derivative works) to well over 50 years (if you choose to go by the idea that even though some crap devalues faster, the most deserving protection are the masterworks that devalue very slowly.) Pick your own pre-conceived number in that range, and there's a valid set of guessed numbers that produces it.

      Anyway, it's used all the time. E.g., if you work in most large corporations, you must have seen at least one (but more likely dozens) of baffling decisions that go somewhat like this:

      How it's supposed to look from the outside: some manager (A) saw that problem X exists and is really a problem, (2) analyzed which products solved that problem, (3) made a list of features and performance characteristics, put them in numbers, and assigned them weights according to their importance in the actual case at hand, (4) dispassionately calculated the weighted score for all of them, and (5) the result happens to say that, objectively, product Y from supplier Z is the perfect choice.

      What really happened: was that the manager had already decided that he wants product Y or just to buy something from company Z, for entirely other reasons. Often (but not always) he even had to scratch his head to figure out a problem X that fits that solution. At any rate, from there the analyzed features and their weights are juggled and massaged until product Y ends up on top. There you go, now the cold dispassionate numbers support it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ngwenya (147097)

        Actually, it looks to me like just a variation of the popular "have a pre-conceived result you want to reach, then massage logic and numbers to reach it.

        Perhaps this is true - the question which occurs to me is "how well does this chime with models from other economists?". If it was way out of wack with optimal predictions from other economists eminent in the field, then I'd say your supposition was right. If, on the other hand, the figures are of the same order (+/- 10 years) then I'd say your criticism is

      • Re:Often they do (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kebes (861706) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:14AM (#19849079) Journal
        Okay, you suggest that the author of this work is massaging the equations and numbers to obtain the result he wants. You also point out some ways in which the paper is flawed: e.g. assuming single values for inputs rather than discussing the range of possibilities and error bars.

        I agree with your criticisms, though not with your implication that he is massaging the numbers to get the results he wants. Regardless, I would like to point out something that, I think, is crucial about the approach he has taken: Because he expresses his logic and results in rigorous, mathematical form, it is possible for us to analyze and improve on them rationally.

        Most debates in public policy are just rhetoric: trying to convince people by appeals to emotion and "common sense" (or contorted logic). There is no way to improve upon the debate other than to throw your own rhetoric into the mix. Here, we have a mathematical analysis. If you think there are flaws in the math, you can easily point them out. If you think he should have done an error analysis, you can do this error analysis. If you think graphing the range of possibilities is more fair, you can go ahead and do that. His work can be built upon, objectively criticized, and improved. This is less like rhetoric and now more like science.

        So, far from being the "final word" on the optimal length on copyright, I view this as a step towards logical analysis (finally!). I hope that others pick upon on this work and come up with more reliable input numbers. That's how progress is made.

        Yes, statistics can be contorted to "prove" alot of things. But the more rigorously and mathematically you frame your argument, the easier it is to point out mistakes and fallacies. I think this is a step in the right direction for this debate.

        Having said all that, I will have to read it a few more times to determine whether I agree with the logic and math. However I think it would be premature to dismiss this without due consideration.
        • Re:Often they do (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Sangui5 (12317) on Friday July 13, 2007 @12:38PM (#19850943)
          Also, the paper is written in a "scientific manner". That is, although he may be trying to show that we should have copyrights are too short, he did his best to prove himself wrong. For *every* simplification, he shows that the bias it introduces tilts things against himself. For the numbers he chooses, he chooses quite conservative ones, that would imply longer copyrights.

          If you are surprised by the 14 year number he gives as a point estimate, really, you just don't understand exponentials. The value of longer copyright terms goes down fast, and even with relatively low exponents, you reach break-even quite fast. Just because a small handful of works maintain their value so well as to warrant massive lobbying, the vast majority of creative works aren't worth the bother to continue printing after just a few years. Consider books; except for bestsellers, they have a really low self-life (pun intended)--only 1% of books ever had their copyright renewed at the 14 year mark (back when that was required). Just 1%!

          He also gives a range of estimates, including some ridiculously low discount rates (2% is obscenely low...). The *highest* copyright term he comes up with is 51.51 years. Now, it seems to me that 50 years is quite a bit shorter than life+70...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DamnStupidElf (649844)
        C) I see nowhere a calculation of the error margins. As a corolary of B, what's more interesting for such a calculation with wildly guessed numbers isn't just one value reached with the most likely guess, but what is the _interval_ of plausible results. If you've fed data which could be anything between 2% and 10%, then what is the result for 2% and what is the result for 10%, for a start. Don't give me the result just for 5%. And that's just one of the values there.

        See page 25. The inverse question of w
  • prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by witte (681163) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:36AM (#19847989)
    Somebody suggests something that's on middle ground and reasonable to both sides. Watch him catch flak from both sides for not seeing it Their Way and therefore Wrong.
  • who's to profit? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iplayfast (166447) on Friday July 13, 2007 @08:42AM (#19848043)
    Most books (not talking about the superstars here) are out of print within 3 years. Most publishers, maintain the copyright on the book until it is no longer in print (or something like that). Then the copyright reverts back to the original author. However most publishers won't admit it is no long in print for years and years after it is long gone.

    Most authors have no problem with making copyright much shorter. I've heard values as low as 3 years, with 5 to 10 being the usual suggestion. It's only the Disney's and other superstars of the publishing world that want copyright longer then the normal human lifespan.
    • Movies though are very expensive to make, and I could see where they would want longer time periods.

      Another issue that could up though is big corporations using your work to make millions of dollars. If Star Wars copyright expired after 14 years, anybody in the world could left frames from the movie and do their own "promotions" whenever the next movie came out. Scenes from the original could be plastered on fast food soda cups all over the world just in time for the next movie release.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MadUndergrad (950779)
        You have to admit that Star Wars is pretty extraordinary, though. For instance, Jurassic Park (the movie) came out 14 years ago. I think that movie has made about all it ever will, despite its success and popularity. It's had time for two sequels. Very little profit will be lost by its entering public domain.
    • My own proposal (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moraelin (679338)
      Actually, I have a proposal of my own that doesn't involve setting any numbers in stone.

      Before I start, let me define the assumptions and problem, the way I see it. My problem isn't money. I'm perfectly OK with the creators receiving adequate compensation for their work. My problem is the fact that copyright is (intentionally or accidentally) used to bury some books or movies alive. Someone can buy the copyright to something just to stop more copies from being made, or in Disney's case to prevent some embar
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The headline is misleading, there is no mathematics in the manuscript,only economics. If submitted to a mathematics journal in its current form the paper would be most likely rejected; however it is publishable in an economics journal. The style of the manuscript is not that of a mathematician but of an economist. The asumptions are not set in an axiomatic way and no theorems are formulasted or proven. He employs elementary mathematical techniques used by economists (optimizations, etc) which are closer to
    • by Xeth (614132)

      Wow, when did calculus stop being math?

      Who ever said this was a mathematical paper? It's about using math to determine social policy, rather than lobbying. It would never be submitted to a mathematical journal; it's clearly a political science work. Is this some sort of bizarre mathematical pretension, that nobody is allowed to claim they use math unless everything they do is done in a strict way?

      In short, you're vitriol about being rejected by a mathematical journal is uncalled for, and you're a jerk fo

    • by kebes (861706) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:35AM (#19848575) Journal
      Well, yes and no.

      The paper is clearly not a paper about mathematics. No 'new math' is being invented. But to say "there is no mathematics in the manuscript, only economics" is not at all right. The paper has plenty of math in it, used to analyze an economics question. That is like opening up a physics journal, looking at all the equations, and concluding "there is no mathematics in these manuscripts, only physics". Physics requires mathematics. Economics requires mathematics.

      no theorems are formulasted or proven
      Well, actually the paper has 13 theorems presented and proved. Again, these are not pure-mathematical theorems, they are economic theorems being proved using mathematical techniques.

      closer to accounting than to real mathematics
      I'm not sure what you mean by "real math." Accounting uses "real math." Engineering uses "real math." Analyzing the economics of copyright using rigorous equations and logical mathematical arguments is, in my estimation, "real math." He is using math as a tool, yes, but that doesn't make it "fake math." Moreover I have trouble believing that accounting typically involves setting out abstract theorems and proving them.
  • I don't know, but I feel that as long as you use/enforce it semi-regularly, you should be able to keep it, but copyrighted material shouldn't be allowed to die in obscurity.

    To make a parallel of the gaming world (which is relevent, copyright is copyright), it would be freakishly weird to see Sony and Microsoft be allowed to make Mario and Zelda games already, but at the same time, obscure games from 25 years ago that no one hears of anymore should be freely available as ROMs, its too late to just come back
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:11AM (#19848321) Homepage Journal
    When it comes to "optimal," we have to consider more than just two parties, what the layman would call "the producer" and "the consumer." In an area as complex as content creation, copyright definitely harms more people than it helps. Many people will say that copyright helps "the producer," but in reality the monopoly of force that copyright provides helps the distributors more than the producer. It harms the consumer (prevents them from using their talents as they decide their time is worth), it harms other producers who also are restricted in how they can use their time most optimally as judged by themselves. It also hurts the original producer because many distribution markets are monopolized because of copyright.

    Look at what Prince just did [google.com] -- he disturbed the distribution monopoly's hold on music sales, and they're PO'd about it. Instead of hoping for sales for an album he knows is already online and in the hands of fans, he used the music he created as a "loss leader" to drive sales to a market he can control -- his own time. Instead of hoping to make millions on an album (which anyone can copy, using their own time, their own equipment), he can now make millions selling something unique -- HIS time in front of his fans.

    Albums are quickly becoming marketing structures to get people to attend your live performances. Many new bands give away their music via MySpace and PureVolume in hopes of getting people to come to their shows -- where they make the actual dollars doing actual labor on an ongoing basis.

    I'm an artist, and I produce some musical acts myself. I've convinced most, if not all, to tell their crowds to go and copy the album they buy at the show for friends, so that the band has a bigger pull the next time they're in town. My own brother's band, Maps & Atlases, is now doing that to great acclaim (MTV2, college radio, and a large tour pending) with hopes of making their money on beer cuts, T-shirt sales, etc. Copyright is useless to them. They won't sign a contract to the various labels chasing them unless they are allowed to distribute their music in any way they want (including Torrent, free MP3 on their sites, etc).

    What is optimal is a market that a producer and a consumer can both dictate what terms they want for a transaction. If an item has the chance to be infinitely available, the cost drops to zero. CDs can theoretically be nearly-infinitely available today. The cost should be close to zero. The time an artists can serve their fans is not infinitely zero (at least not in a live performance, face to face). This is where money can, and should, be made. That is optimal for all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Albums are quickly becoming marketing structures to get people to attend your live performances. Many new bands give away their music via MySpace and PureVolume in hopes of getting people to come to their shows -- where they make the actual dollars doing actual labor on an ongoing basis.

      I hear this argument time and time again, but you don't realize that not all people feel the same way as you. I enjoy recordings and generally don't care for concerts. I would much rather sit down and listen, in the comfo

  • It's a model (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:16AM (#19848361)
    We shouldn't simply assume that just because the author used math, (and we like his conclusion, ) that his conclusions are accurate.

    1. The author built a mathematical model of the world.
    2. Then he performed (presumably) valid math within that model.
    3. But generally, all models simplify, often over-simplify, the thing they describe.
    4. So even if all his math is valid, his results may be inaccurate.

    We also can't simply ignore the fact that the objective function he was trying to maximize embodies a particular notion of what "good" is. But we know that the idea of "good" varies from person to person, even amongst Slashdot'ers, in major ways. So just because we like the fact that he used math, and we like his advocacy of shorter copyright, we maybe should seriously disagree with his conclusion of "about 14 years" being optimal.
  • Remember that with a 14 year copyright, copyleft licenses such as GNU GPL would cease to apply. As a result, this software would become public domain after 14 years.

    I haven't thought it through, but this doesn't strike me as a bad thing.
  • by ephraim (192509) * on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:20AM (#19848389)
    This is nothing new. William Landes and Richard Posner (two U Chicago Law Professors) made almost the exact same claim in 2002. See it for yourself here: Indefinitely Renewable Copyright [ssrn.com]
  • well at least there was some method for coming up with this number-- beats just pulling a number out of someones asshole.
  • Does modifying a work affect its copyright date? If I update a piece of software 7 years after I release it, would the copyright on the entire work be let up 7 years later? or would version 2 be considered a seperate work and be copyrighted for another 14 years with the first version falling out of protection halfway through that term? I worded that kind of crappily but you get the idea. Under this scheme would some of the older parts of Linux no longer be protected while the newer parts are protected?
  • Patent periods... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jwiegley (520444) on Friday July 13, 2007 @02:49PM (#19852397)

    Which, by the way, is in line with the length of the lifetime granted to patents, an alternate form of intellectually property.

    I have been saying for years that intellectual properties are similar enough that they should be treated equally. The lifetime of patents and copyrights should be equal. The extendability and transferability should also enjoy the same rules.

    I am sick to death of seeing the technical works of scientists and engineers forced into the public domain only a decade after their invention while "artists" enjoy protection long after they're dead. The lifetime of a patent is often not sufficient to secure a profit for the inventor since often the invention is created long before its time. By the time other technologies have caught up to it so that it can be used effectively of cost-efficiently or before somebody has found the best purpose for the invention the patent has expired. Therefore the profit for the inventor is lost.

    The only rationale I can see for the current system is that the technological properties are required for survival, or at least highly useful at improving quality of life, while the artistic properties typically improve the enjoyment of life. As a result the public mass demands, by vote, immediate access to the required intellectual properties and is less inclined to demand such access of the artistic items since they can live without them. That, or the artists/distributors are in the sweet spot where they make enough money to successfully fight for better protections while not presenting a product that the public unanimously demands and cannot survive with out, which would overwhelm any amount of money spent trying to legislate protection for it.

    It's stupid the way science and its achievements are back-burnered and taken of advantage of in favor of artists, sports and celebrities.

Per buck you get more computing action with the small computer. -- R.W. Hamming

Working...