Lessig on Copyright Extension

by F.

Britain is considering extending the term of copyright for recordings another 45 years. Is this a good thing? It depends what good it will do. Government granted monopolies are good, proponents argue, because they spur innovation and creativity. Will an extra 45 years do this? No:

As economist after economist has testified, the current value of that future income is trivial. Using a formula offered by 19 economists, including five Nobel prize winners, adding 45 years to the copyright term increases the present incentives by less than 3.5 per cent.

That’s probably not enough to make anyone write a song. If we look backwards, incentives vanish, of course:

Does extending the term of existing copyrights create new incentives to create? Well, so long as nature’s laws against time travel remain, the answer is obviously no. Incentives are prospective, not retrospective. No matter what we do today, Sir Cliff Richard is not going to produce anything more in 1956.

Government granted monopolies should be as small as necessary, it seems to me, so there is no reason to extend copyright protection another 45 years:

Extending terms simply means the public pays twice for works that have already been created. That benefits the most successful artists but with no benefit to the public.

Lessig’s article is here.