February 23, 2002

Here's a Salon interview with the plaintiffs in the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case that the Supreme Court agreed to review last week.

Mickey Mouse vs. The People.

Neither Eric Eldred nor Laura Bjorklund intended to become warriors in the battle over copyright. They simply wanted to publish old books; Eldred's Web site has hosted versions of old Nathaniel Hawthorne novels and Robert Frost poems since 1995, while Bjorklund's tiny Massachusetts publishing company focuses on genealogy texts and out-of-print histories.

But on Oct. 27, 1998, President Clinton, urged on by a Disney Corp. mindful that its Mickey Mouse copyright was about to expire, passed a law that extended copyright protection for an additional 20 years. Eldred and Bjorklund were outraged. In their view, the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act harmed the public by retroactively taking information from the public domain and putting it back under the control of copyright holders. Corporations would benefit, but small publishers and the general public, they argued, would suffer.

Lawrence Lessig, then a law professor at Harvard, heard their call and took on the case pro bono. Eldred and Bjorklund became the first two plaintiffs in a class action suit brought against Congress itself. On Feb. 19, after nearly four years of litigation, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

At issue is whether Congress -- with the constitutional authority to issue copyrights and patents "for limited times" to "promote the progress of science and useful arts" -- overstepped its bounds in this case. The previous law, passed in 1978, protected an author's work for 50 years after an author died, while works for hire -- those created for a corporation, like Mickey Mouse -- were protected for 75 years. The Bono Act extended both categories by two decades.

Those who favor the law argue that Congress should be allowed to determine the definition of "limited times" and that the Bono Act simply puts the U.S. on equal footing with European intellectual property laws, which offer a similar degree of protection.

Eldred and Bjorklund vehemently disagree. In their first joint interview since the Supreme Court decided to review the case, they exuberantly explained why in a conference call with Salon.

Here's a nice article by Neil Strauss in Sunday's New York Times on the latest battle between artists and record industry:
Behind the Grammys, Revolt in the Industry.

The major record labels depend on three things to survive: the money of fans, the music of their artists and the support of the multinational corporations that own them. But the labels are suddenly realizing that they can't depend on any of these. In the past, downturns were attributed to the cyclical nature of the recording business. But this is the first time in recent memory that everyone across the board — artists, executives, fans and industry observers — seems cynical about the very future of record labels as we know them.

"If the industry doesn't change the way we do business," said Val Azzoli, co-chairman of Atlantic Records, "we're going to be bankrupt."

While it has been widely reported that music sales were down 5 percent last year, this is the least of the music business's woes. What is more troubling is not yesterday's sales but tomorrow's profits, and panicked executives are hurling recriminations in all directions: at radio stations with ever more limited playlists, at the downloading of music from the Internet, at the increased ease of duplicating CD's on home computers and stereos, at the skyrocketing costs of marketing albums, at artists fighting their record companies, at the replacement of musically knowledgeable executives with corporate bean counters and at multinational companies that demand quick profits and instant hits. Add to all this new judicial and political problems, most recently a court ruling Friday in the Napster case that states that the record labels' own Internet services "may run afoul of Internet antitrust laws."

February 20, 2002

The CARP (Copyright Abritration Royalty Panel) webcasting rates have just been released today.

These proceedings set the compulsory licensing fee rates for webcasting.

I'm just taking a look at these myself so stay tuned...

Holy cow! The Supreme Court is going to hear the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case!

This could put Mickey Mouse into the public domain, and remove the last round of Copyright Extension Law that went through in 1998. (Please excuse the gross oversimplification :-)

Here are two great articles that came out today if you want to learn more about this:

Amy Harmon's article in the NY Times:
Case Could Shift Balance in Debate on Public Domain

Kendra Mayfield's story in Wired News:
Setting Boundaries on Copyrights