This post from John Bloom appeared in National Review and starts with the wry observation that “whoever turned “copy right” into one word had to be a lawyer.” He supports his comment by noting the vast majority of Americans think that copyright is some form of legal document that “you have to go get it, or protect it, or defend it, or preserve it, or buy it, or hire a lawyer to make sure you have it.” However, he argues that we should be looking at “copy right” as two words, with the emphasis on the second word. And according to Mr. Bloom, that “right” is pretty straightforward; “whoever creates something that has never been created before has the exclusive right to copy it.” However, this right is also somewhat unique. It is transferable like when an author agrees to sell or license his/her copyright to a publisher. On top of that, it is a right with a specific time limit which gets to the crux of Bloom’s main argument.
Mr. Bloom points out that the Founders, trying to avoid “a system of hereditary privilege, similar to the printers guilds of Renaissance England” favored a time limit on copyright of “14 years, with an additional 14 years if the author were still alive.” However, he goes on to argue that due to Congressional tampering we have lengthened that time frame to the point that the old printers guilds of Renaissance England have been replaced by “Disney, Bertelsmann, and AOL Time Warner.” Naturally, Mr. Bloom’s argument is more sophisticated and he offers additional evidence to support his contention – but of course, you will need to read the whole article to get the full impact of what he is saying.