My new column discusses the J.D. Salinger lawsuit to stop the publication of a book called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye that is kinda, sorta a sequel to Catcher in the Rye.
My argument: copyright law as it currently exists does the opposite of its original intent (as formulated in the U.S. Constitution, which allows Congress to legislate on copyright, and in the very first copyright statute enacted in 1790): to promote arts and letters and encourage learning, by giving authors an incentive to create new works by ensuring that they can fairly profit from their writings. (In olden days, it wasn’t at all uncommon for unauthorized editions of books to be legally sold with no profits going to the writer.) Today, copyright violation claims are commonly invoked to suppress new works — wheter it’s 60 Years Later, The Wind Done Gone (the “Gone With the Wind-from-a-slave’s-point-of-view” novel that was finally declared legal after much wrangling in the courts), a production of a James Joyce play, or fan-made Xena: Warrior Princess videos on YouTube.
Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig has argued that unless copyright law is reformed, it will end up stifling the creativity of a generation, particularly in the age of digital art. At the very least, the law should focus more on whether the copyright holder suffers actual economic loss, or be denied rightful gain, because of the infringement. As for restricting the use of one’s character or story by other artists of writers, it seems fair that, like the right to sue for libel, this right should be terminated by death. (Personally, I would support a term of 50 years, with a portion of revenues from any derivative work published thereafter going to the original author.)
Actually, I should have been clearer: 50 years or the death of the author, whichever comes first.
While ego-surfing Google Blogs tonight, I spotted my name on the LewRockwell.com blog, in reference to the column and my “50-year copyright term” proposal. I just knew I — and Reason — were getting slammed, so I figured it was for disrespect for intellectual property rights unbecoming libertarians. Well, I was wrong.