Not to toot my own horn here, but...well, ok...I'll toot it.
Last week, I was the only one that I knew of to bring up the copyright implications of the great Hillary Clinton/Apple/Orwell mash-up ad that had made its rounds across the Internet. I pointed out that there was an obvious tension between core political speech and Apple's potential claims of copyright.
I ended the post with these thoughts -
"This is merely the analysis in relation to a potential copyright claim by Apple. There is also the analysis for copyright infringement by the George Orwell estate. After all, the Hillary Clinton/Apple ad is also still a derivative work of 1984, right? Shouldn't Orwell's estate have a say if this ad should be able to exist or not? I don't think it should. But copyright maximalists no doubt feel otherwise."
Well what do ya know? It turns out that people who licensed works from the Orwell estate have finally noticed and decided to start some legal threats over copyright violations.
Glenn Reynolds is wrong - This isn't "a dumb intellectual property lawsuit". It is instead a dumb intellectual property LEGAL SCHEME that we have - one in desperate need of underlying reform. We won't have a solution to this problem until people understand the difference here. The quality of lawsuits are mostly dictated by the quality of the underlying laws.
One claim from the threat strikes me as particularly bizarre - the notion that "the Orwell novel is still under copyright, at least until the year 2044."
Orwell died in 1950. Even under the ridiculously long term of "life plus 70 years" that has been retroactively applied to copyright lengths, that would mean that 1984 becomes public domain in 2020 at the latest. Where do those people get off claiming copyright until 2044? Am I missing something in my math here??
[Update: My math wasn't wrong, but my analysis might have been. If the Orwell people are claiming that the work was published in the U.S. before 1963 AND had the copyright renewed, then it extends for 95 years from the initial date of publication. So if it was published in U.S. in 1949, that would make the date of 2044 correct. It's scandalous and morally outrageous - but still legally correct.]
If anyone wants to enjoy Orwell's work, I encourage them to read this post: Orwell's Copyright Police State - Reloaded.
Supplemental question: Is the company that purchased the "Orwell rights" in this instance acting on their own in issuing legal threats? Or were they contacted and encouraged by Barack Obama's political adversaries to try and suppress the anti-Clinton ad on their behalf?? If the latter occurred, then what are implications for copyright being used as a direct weapon to suppress political speech? Ok class, please discuss...
[Posted at 03/28/2007 04:30 PM by Justin Levine on IP as Censorship comments(7)]
On that last question, I'd say I find it difficult to believe that there is political motivation involved. Of course, the question arises about why no lawsuit against the ad agency responsible for the original 1984 ad? Anyway, if it was initiated by Obama's political opponents, I'd say at least Obama is close to the right side on the copyright wars - his Flickr account's photos are all CC licensed works, for what it's worth.
[Comment at 03/28/2007 06:26 PM by Shane]
Remember folk, copyright is a weapon against publisher types, i.e. geezers in possession of a large and heavy printing press.
Unfortunately for copyright we are now all in possession of a vast and distributed printing press, known as the Internet.
You may be able to prosecute someone found in possession of an incriminating press, but something tells me that "Copyright vs Viral distribution of entertaining political videos" is a fight with a very clear winner.
All that remains is whether the artist who produces such a video can really be considered a criminal. They have prepared a derivative and made it available - then the public see fit to mass produce copies of it.
It may be that such artists only need to reveal authorship if/when their works prove popular, for then the acclaim affords any penalty levied by our gloriously vestigial copyright.
What is the penalty for preparing a derivative work through combination of authorised copies of published works in the privacy of one's home these days?
Can't have artists building upon each other's work can we now, eh? It just ain't fair.
[Comment at 03/29/2007 01:35 AM by Crosbie Fitch]
The Washington Post reported (3/28/2007) that "Britain's Court of Appeal rejected a lawsuit Wednesday from two authors who claimed novelist Dan Brown stole their ideas for his blockbuster novel "The Da Vinci Code."
" Finally, a moment of sanity in the copyright battle.
To expand on Fitch's comment about building on others work. The downside of this lawsuit had it not been rejected, was the apparent argument quoted in the NY Times that "In a statement the authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, said, "We believed, and still do, that nonfiction authors would suffer and be discouraged from extensive research if it was found that any author could take another's ideas, 'morph' and repackage them, then sell them on."" Had the case upheld this absurd concept, it would have been a severe frost on the ability of people to build on the work of others. I suppose college students would have been happy to be barred from doing research!
Thankfully, the court had a lucid moment.
[Comment at 03/29/2007 03:34 PM by Steve R.]
I suppose Baigent and Leigh had been looking forward to an acclaimed string of highly derivative books - and the ability to lock out any other author from this supposedly lucrative niche.
The problem with monopolies over exploitation of one's publications is that it's very understandable why the idea is so attractive to the author.
I can only conclude that it's an author's ego-distortion field that enables them to justify constraining the artistic inclinations of 6,700,000,000 other authors.
[Comment at 03/30/2007 01:20 AM by Crosbie Fitch]
It has long been my view that most of us took Orwell and Huxley as the warnings I believe they were intended to be. Unfortunately the few in power seem to have used them as a roadmap.
So a look on the lighter side: We should buy Orwell's copyrights and then we can use the copyright ownership to ban the Orwellian lunacies governments are implementing worldwide!!
Na - you can't play their game. He's five foot two, and he's six feet four ....................And brother, can't you see, this is not the way to put an end war.
[Comment at 03/30/2007 04:05 PM by Glenn T]
Barack Obama is the answer to Bushism and the idiocracy of past 8 years that governed American foreign policy. He will be able to restore the true image, reputation once America enjoyed in the world as the champion of Democracy and Freedom.
Hillary has too much dirt and is too close to corporate America. Obama will fight for the common man, go against corporate politics and corporate power, he has the guts, will and charisma.
[Comment at 03/19/2008 01:22 PM by David Dzidzikashvili]
If by that you mean "more important to get rid of ASAP", I'd have to agree.
[Comment at 01/15/2011 03:18 AM by Nobody Nowhere]