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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."
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Optimum Copyright Period Decided by Math

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  • Good Stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <> on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:30AM (#19847937) Journal
    This Rufus Pollock has some good stuff [] 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 [].

    He has a paper detailing a model where innovation occurs without intellectual property [] 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.
  • by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:37AM (#19847997)

    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 moving across the internet via torrents is nowhere near 14 years old, not even 14 months.
  • who's to profit? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iplayfast (166447) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:42AM (#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.
  • Re:Good Stuff (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DFDumont (19326) on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:46AM (#19848083)
    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 @09:48AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2007 @09:54AM (#19848155)
    We need to find the family of Hans Christian Anderson, get them to lobby for the restoration of his copyrights and then sue Disney for everything they've got.
  • by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:01AM (#19848223)
    For example, let's take "Spiderman." Spiderman has been around a lot longer than 14 years, and recently Sony has made a ton of money for Marvel and its own investors with three hit movies. If Spiderman had already fallen into the public domain, those films might not have been made, and therefore that wealth not generated.

    Wealth wasn't generated. It was redistributed.

    Society would have been just fine without those movies.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:06AM (#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)
  • by the.Ceph (863988) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:23AM (#19848441)
    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?
  • Often they do (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Moraelin (679338) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:29AM (#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:who's to profit? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MadUndergrad (950779) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:33AM (#19848545)
    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.
  • by nuttycom (1016165) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:43AM (#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.

  • What About "Proof"? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by monxrtr (1105563) on Friday July 13, 2007 @10:50AM (#19848753)
    How about some economic and philosophical proof that copyright and patent cause technological and artistic stagnation in absolutely every case? What about proof that contrary to the original Constitutional justification for copyright and patent, to promote and advance science and the arts, the actual result is the exact opposite of the Constitutional justification?

    I just have to laugh at all those who think "copying" is a bad word. All these programmers on /. complaining about people "stealing" their work are in absolutely every case similarly copying the work of others. They didn't invent the programming languages they program in. They're using someone else's work to create new work. Imagine if it was illegal to write new programs because code and the programming language were "copyrighted". It's quite obvious how much poorer society would be if we used copyright and patent violence to prohibit others from working in new ways, or prohibit others from copying others, just like they do when they live in homes with windows and doors.

    If you want to do an economic or mathematical analysis, you start with the super simple observation that violent offensive force is necessary to prohibit others from copying. It's an imposition of silence. By definition, forcing people to be silent, forcing people to be deaf, dumb, and blind to what exists is a net poorer society.

    There isn't a single person alive, nor will they ever be a single person alive, that is not copying others. Copyright and patent are the exact same thing as the childish game of "jinx", with bigger and badder violence backing up the claims.

    How many remixes have been forsaken? How many movie spin offs and new creative stories involving copyrighted characters have been supressed? Would the gaming world be better off if nobody could copy the format of "increasing stats" and "random number generators"? All these big massive mmmorpg games raking in the hundreds of millions are copying each other, increasing competition, giving consumers better quality for a lower price. How much more cumbersome and less simple are computer programs because people have to tip toe around legal minefields? How much time and energy and resources are absolutely wasted with legal shenanigans?

    A 14 year optimal compromise? How about some proof that 1 second is too long? Every great innovation has "stood upon the shoulders of giants", has copied. The greatest gift those of the 21st century could give to themselves and to future generations is a constitutional ammendment banning all copyright and patent protection. Everyone would be instantaneously wealthier (nobody can produce more content than they receive in return) and the rate of technological and artistic advancement would soar.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday July 13, 2007 @11:18AM (#19849147)
    Just use the NASCAR method.

    They pay 5% of whatever they claim the value is.

    However, anyone can purchase the property for that claimed value amount.

    (in nascar races, if it is a $45k race, then the race can buy any car that competes in it for $45k.)
  • not a flat rate (Score:5, Interesting)

    by doug (926) on Friday July 13, 2007 @12:25PM (#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
  • by MoxFulder (159829) on Friday July 13, 2007 @12:44PM (#19850261) Homepage

    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 than the fringes. In countries with proportional representation, a fringe party can get into the legislature with, say, 3% of the national vote. In a plurality system, that party won't be more than a blip UNLESS it manages to gain a plurality of the vote in some regional district. So the plurality system encourages centrist politics, while at the same time respecting regional political differences.
  • by westlake (615356) on Friday July 13, 2007 @01:26PM (#19850791)
    Peter Pan

    a footnote: The rights to Peter Pan are under a unique - perpetual - copyright in the U.K. The European copyright on Peter Pan expires this year, 2023 in the U.S. Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity: Peter Pan Copyright []

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

    by Sangui5 (12317) on Friday July 13, 2007 @01:38PM (#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...
  • by Knuckles (8964) <knuckles AT dantian DOT org> on Friday July 13, 2007 @03:14PM (#19852031)
    Music makes a lot more money

    Some mainstream music does. This [] or this [] does not.

There's a whole WORLD in a mud puddle! -- Doug Clifford