Copyright Law Explained:
In this edgy and informative video, the history of copyright law is summarized and explained. Every copyright infringement lawyer can tell you what you can and cannot use from copyright protected works. This video will help you understand how to avoid a claim of copyright infringement so you don’t have to hire a copyright infringement attorney.
The origin of copyright law take us back to 1710 and Queen Anne, the Monarch who had just overseen the unification of England and Scotland into the then brand new Great Britain.
Also, on her busy schedule was the Statute of Anne, the very first copyright law. It gave authors control over who could make copies of their books or build on their work for a limited period of time.
Later, a group of rebellious colonists thought that the Statute of Anne was a good idea, and so, copy and pasted it into their own constitution, giving Congress the power:
“to promote the progress science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors… the exclusive right to their respective writings”.
Basically, copyright is a contract between authors and society. If you promise to make more stuff, we promise not to copy it or build on it for 28 years.
Here is an example from the modern day. Let’s say you’re trying to be a director, and you’re looking for a project to get started.
Harry Potter is story you’d love to remake, but since J.K. Rowling published “The Sorcerer’s Stone” in the United States in 1998, it still has copyright protection, so you can’t use it. Instead, you need to find something from a long time ago, for example, “Star Wars”.
George Lucas released Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. That’s more than 28 years ago. So, great! Get filming. Alas, no. While Star Wars should have lost copyright protection in 2005, it’s actually copyrighted until 2072, 95 years after publication, not 28! So you can’t use it unless Lucas let’s you.
Why does his copyright last for ages?
Well, as long as there has been copyright, there have been authors arguing that it’s too short. And perhaps, they’re right. How’s a poor guy like Lucas supposed to turn a profit in a mere 28 years between 1977 and 2005?
After all, there was only the theatrical release of A New Hope, and the theatrical re-release in 1978, and again in 1979, and 1981, and 1982, and then there was the 1982 VHS and Beta Max release, the 1984 broadcast television release, the 1985 laserdisc release, the 1989 widescreen laserdisc release, the 1990 VHS re-release, the 1992 widescreen VHS release, the 1993 laserdisc re-release, the 1995 VHS re-re-release, 1997 special edition theatrical release Han shot first, you bastard, the 1997 VHS special edition release and the 2004 DVD release. And now you, dear film maker, come along and want to make your own version of Star Wars: A New Hope? For shame! That’s like stealing food right out of George Lucas’ mouth.
Four times congress has agreed with authors that the length of copyright is too short to turn a profit, and so, has extended it, first, in 1831 from 28 years to 42 years, then again in 1909 to 56 years, in 1976 to the lifetime of the author plus 50 years, and in 1998, to the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.
That’s a great deal for authors who’ve already made stuff, but does it really help society get more books and movies. It’s hard to imagine, for example, that Edgar Rice Burroughs started writing “A Princess of Mars” and “Tarzan” in 1911 because the copyright laws had just been extended and would not have done so otherwise.
Or that J.K. Rowling, while living on benefits in Scotland, was busy doing the math and wouldn’t have written Harry Potter if the copyright protection was just for her whole life and not an additional seven decades thereafter.
Because exactly, who needs incentives after they’re dead. Dead is the point at which literally no incentives in the whole universe can compel you to write one more screenplay, because you’re dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead, DEAD!
If you’re the kind of person who is only motivated by plans that unravel after your demise, you’re either amazingly awesome or deranged.
But so what? So what if every kindergartener’s macaroni artwork is protected by copyright for 175 years? Why does it matter? Because the main beneficiaries of copyright after death are not the authors of society, but companies. Companies like Disney.
Remember all the old good Disney movies? Yeah, All of them came from works no longer under copyright protection at the time. The whole of the Disney Empire and the childhood magic that it produces only exists because there was copyright-free work for Walt Disney - you know, the guy who actually started the whole company - to rework and update.
But the corporate, Walt-less Disney was the big pusher of the 1998 life plus 70 years copyright extension. It made sure that no one could make a more popular version of their movies in the same way they made a more popular version of Alice in Wonderland.
This near-infinite control subverts the whole purpose of copyright, which is to promote the creation of more books and movies, not to give companies the power to stop people making new creative works based on the efforts of their long-dead founders.
New directors and authors need the freedom to take what came before and remake and remix. And they should be able to use the creative material from their own lifetimes to do so, not just be limited to the work of previous generations.
At the end of the century, George Lucas wrought upon civilization a new word: anticipointment. The tremendous let-down that was the lazy, bland, and soulless new trilogy. George Lucas’s was completely within his rights to make those movies into the sterile, toy-marketing vehicles they were. He owned Darth Vader and could tell the origin story as he wished. But, imagine for a moment, if copyright still worked as first intended.
In 2011, the whole of the original Star Wars trilogy – all of its artwork, its characters, its music – would have left copyright protection and been available to aspiring directors and writers to build upon and make their own versions of.
There would be a treasure trove of new Star Wars stories for fans to enjoy. But as long as the current copyright laws remain as they are, no living person will ever get to tell a Darth Vader story, or a Harry Potter Story, or a Hobbit Story or any other story that matters to them, that the author or, when after their death, their company, disagrees with.