1996-12-29 - Limiting copyright

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From: azur@netcom.com (Steve Schear)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 4ec1a6730074f7ce9df56976b6806c4e2d71dab9f485f5de293632c2a59cbee9
Message ID: <v02140b02aeeb542e17c4@[]>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1996-12-29 11:57:04 UTC
Raw Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 03:57:04 -0800 (PST)

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From: azur@netcom.com (Steve Schear)
Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 03:57:04 -0800 (PST)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Limiting copyright
Message-ID: <v02140b02aeeb542e17c4@[]>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

The US Constitution empowers Congress to pass laws "to promote progress of
science and [the] useful arts." Congress has chosen to accomplish this
constitutional goal by granting authors a limited set of exclusive rights
in their works. The founding fathers wanted, through copyright, to
encourage the useful arts and thereby offer to the public the fruits of
these artists.  Copyright protects all original works of authorship,
including such things as personal letters and corporate memoranda, from the
moment they are first fixed in a tangible form.

About 50,000 U.S. books go out-of-print each year.  The lack of continuous
availability of these works runs counter to the implicit balance sought by
the founding fathers between the needs of the public and copyright holders.
In the past copyright holders could reasonably maintain that economics
prohibited keeping works in print, with practical, economic and ubiquitous
on-line means, this is no longer a barrier.

This being so, why should copyrights on "significant" works (e.g., written
one's with length's greater than 20,000 words) which have been
commercialized continue when the public cannot gain ready access to copy of
same?  This logic follows from the use-it-or-lose-it concept of trademarks.
Changes are need to ensure the public that such "significant"
commercialized copyright works are continuously available.

Under this recommendation the works must remain available from the
copyright holder or their licensee, specialty resellers (e.g., hard to find
book locators)  wouldn't count, but electronic publication would.   If a
copyright holder fails to keep a work continuously available, then after a
brief interval (e.g., six months) the copyright would lapse.

Often, the owner of copyright (the author) is different from the owner of
the privilege to publish of a book or item.  This privilege is assigned
by a contract between an author and publisher, mediated by an agent and

Once signed, the author has little influence on the decision to keep a
book in print (unless they are big-time authors, like Danielle Steele or
Stephen King.)  Furthermore, changes in editors, editorial direction,
management, ownership, etc., can affect decisions on whether or not to
support a book, keep it in print, etc., none of which the average author
can influence.  Usually, contracts between authors and publishers have
rights reversions clauses, returning all rights to the author, once a book
goes out-of-print.  However, publishers have come up with a new term
"out-of-stock-indefinitely" which fundamentally means "out-of-print" but
doesn't trigger reversion of rights.

Therefore, a part of the provision might ban author-publisher contract
clauses with these reversion changes. This would be similar to music
copyrights/contract law which limit a composers right to sign over more
than a certain percentage of their interest in a work to the publisher.

An author may sometimes seek to remove a work from circulation, perhaps the
work becomes embarrassing or dated and needs to be revised.

So, another part of the provision might allow the author to irrevocably
place the copyright for a work to be withdrawn in a state of "limbo" such
that no one (including the author) could publish the work until the
author's death (or the  copyright's normal expiration date).  Copyright for
revised works would permit the author to replace one work with another by
relinquishing the copyright for the former work (which cannot be
republished until the copyright's normal expiration date.)

-- Steve