Billboard magazine

January 14, 1995
Extending Copyrights Preserves U.S. Culture
By Arthur R. Miller

. . . One of the major reasons Congress originally adopted life-plus-50-years was to offer protection not only to the creator of the copyrighted works, but to his or her children and grandchildren-that is, to three generations in all. With people living longer today, an extension of the copyright term by 20 years would roughly correspond to the increase in longevity that has occurred during the 20th century. . . .

If Congress does not extend to Americans the same copyright protection afforded Europeans, American creators will have 20 years less protection than their European counterparts-20 years during which Europeans will not be paying Americans for our copyrighted products. This situation would not only be unfair to creators of copyrighted works, but would be harmful economically to the country as a whole.

The export of intellectual property is growing at a tremendous rate because America dominates popular culture the world over. In 1990, America's ''copyright industries'' recorded $ 34 billion in foreign sales of records, CDs, computer software, motion pictures, music, books, scientific journals, periodicals, photographs, designs, and pictorial and sculptural works. Because the world is so eager for the products of America's copyright industries, they are one of the few bright spots in our balance-of-trade picture.
The question of copyright extension should be viewed in the larger context of bilateral and multilateral trade talks-including the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) negotiations under GATT. U.S. trade representatives have found that shortcomings in our own copyright law are used against us when we call for stronger protection for American works overseas. One can just hear the Europeans objecting in future negotiations: ''How can you ask for better protection in Europe when you do not even grant the same term of protection we do?''

The need for strong copyright protection becomes more important every year as a weapon with which to fight the piracy of intellectual property. Overseas piracy of American copyrighted material has grown dramatically in recent years due to the availability of equipment that can make cheap copies of movies, videotapes, sound recordings, and computer programs. As more and more digital technology arrives on the scene, the problem will only become worse.

Indeed, China alone produced an estimated $ 2 billion worth of counterfeit recordings and computer discs last year. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, China now has as many as 26 factories capable of producing 62 million compact discs. China's domestic market accounts for only about 3 million discs, so the dimension of the loss to copyright owners is obvious. Unless Congress matches the copyright extension adopted by the European Union, we will lose 20 years of valuable protection against rip-off artists around the world. . . .

Commentary writer Professor Lewis Kurlantzick (Billboard, Oct. 29, 1994) asserted that when copyrighted works lose their protection, they become more widely available. At first blush, this appears logical. But, paradoxically, works of art become less available to the public when they enter the public domain-at least in a form that does credit to the original. This is because few businesses will invest the money necessary to reproduce and distribute products that have lost their copyright protection and can therefore be reproduced by anyone. The only products that do tend to be made available after a copyright expires are ''down and dirty'' reproductions of such poor quality that they degrade the original copyrighted work. And there is very little evidence that the consumer really benefits economically from works falling into the public domain. . . .

For all these reasons, it's clear why Congress should act. America can reap valuable benefits, at no cost to itself, if Congress enacts legislation to extend our copyright protection by 20 years. By harmonizing our laws with the EU, we can reduce our balance-of-trade deficit, encourage economic investment, strengthen our hand in dealing with intellectual piracy, and see to it that America's authors, composers, artists, and computer programmers receive the same level of protection afforded the creative people of other nations. Thus, copyright term extension makes economic sense, and it's equitable.


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