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
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
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.
For more information or your ideas about Copyright Extension email: firstname.lastname@example.org