Copyfail #5: Excessive copyright protection term killing creativity and access to culture

By EDRi · June 22, 2016

This article is the fifth in the series presenting Copyfails.

The EU is reforming its copyright rules. We want to introduce to you the main failures of the current copyright system, with suggestions on how to fix them. You can find all the Copyfails here.

How has it failed?

The copyright protection term in the EU is currently 70 years after the author’s death. Several international agreements regulating copyright (such as Berne Convention and TRIPS agreement) suggest a significantly shorter protection term.

It is arguable how long copyright protection for authors, decades after their death, helps fostering economic growth. Most books go out of print within one year from their initial publication, and the same applies to music and films. The vast majority of works are not profitable for much longer. When it isn’t financially beneficial for the rights holders to print new editions of old books, but they are still under copyright protection, nobody else can publish them either. Because of this, many cultural works end up simply disappearing.

In Europe, this has lead to the “20th century black hole” where many works are not available anymore because they were not exploited by publishers, and copyright “protection” prohibited their distribution through other channels. The absurdly long copyright protection is also preventing digitisation of our cultural heritage. This hinders research, education, commercial innovation and artistic expression.


Why is this important?

The overly long copyright protection term hardly protects anyone’s rights, or even serves anyone’s financial interests. Instead, it complicates creation of new works, and delays books, movies and songs getting accessible for everyone.

As EDRi member EFF put it, “(t)he extension of copyright term is opposed by law professors, tech companies, non-profits, authors’ associations and users”. Besides this, even the US Copyright Office has indicated that the copyright term might be too long and proposed options for diminishing its effects.

How to fix it?


The second enclosure movement and the construction of the public domain

Legal Frameworks and Technological Protection of Digital Content: Moving Forward Towards a Best Practice Model

The missing decades: the 20th century black hole in Europeana

Open Rights Group: Copyright extension

How copyright extension in sound recordings actually works

Proposed EU Copyright Term Extension Faces Vocal Opposition In Parliament