Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is copyright right?

For the ones not familiar with copyright, I'll make a short introduction. For a longer description check the wikipedia article. Copyright is a tool invented to foster innovation. It provides the author of literal or artistic work with a monopoly on copying the work. That monopoly can be understood because it is not an easy job to create literal or art works, and authors could use this monopoly to generate income. Today copyright has been extended to provide a monopoly for 70 years.

I am myself a copyright owner of several works of mine, one prominent being the software GnuTLS, a computer security software (or library to be precise). The copyright will remain on me and my descendants for my lifetime and my descendants will hold copyright to the software for 70 years afterwards. So if I could chose, so no-one could profit from that software for more than 100-120 years (if I can last that long). Why has the society granted me the power to deprive her from my work for so long? Moreover I have chosen to distribute my software under the GNU lesser general public license. I like this license because it promotes sharing, but many people do not think so. A big software company's CEO has even argued that this software license is a cancer. He might be right or wrong. If he is right then society has granted me the power to distribute my work only under a cancer-like license for 100 years or so. If I am right then maybe the society could benefit from my software.

But I might always be wrong, not matter what I believe. Why would the society trust authors of work to restrict them for a ridiculus amount of time, after which the works are hardly useful for anything than display on a museum? Now people in France and the World in general are looking for ways to enforce copyright in the digital world. But did we ever answered the question whether copyright as it is today makes sense in the digital era?.

Shouldn't we first balance the cost to the society versus the profits? Is 70 years after the author's death a reasonable time? Is no copyright a reasonable choice? These are the two extremes. I think today we are on the one extreme we should move somewhere closer to a balanced decision.

PS. I wrote that after watching the views of Perry Barlow in e-G8.

PS2. For the pendantics, I have chosen not to keep the copyright of my work in GnuTLS but rather transfer it to Free Software Foundation. This does not alter my arguments in any way as they apply to FSF as well.

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