Mighty Mickey, the Copyright Enforcer

The «Harvard Business Review» has a thoughtful piece on the venerable practice of US Congressional bribery, which brings to mind the venerable joke: “Congress? The best bunch of legislators money can buy!” They say

Intellectual Property. When Walt Disney penned «Steamboat Willie» — the first cartoon with Mickey Mouse in it — copyright lengths were substantially shorter than they are now (but still enough such that it gave encouragement to Walt to create his famous character). And yet somehow, it seems that every time that Mickey is about to enter the public domain, congress has passed a bill to extend the length of copyright. Congress has paid no heed to research or calls for reform; the only thing that matters to determining the appropriate length of copyright is how old Mickey is. Rather than create an incentive to innovate and develop new characters, the present system has created the perverse situation where it makes more sense for Big Content to make campaign contributions to extend protection for their old work…

And… if you were in any doubt how deep inside the political system the system of contributions have allowed incumbents to insert their hands, take a look at what happened when the Republican Study Committee released a paper pointing out some of the problems with the current copyright regime. The debate was stifled within 24 hours. And just for good measure, Rep Marsha Blackburn, whose district abuts Nashville and who received more money from the music industry than any other Republican congressional candidate, apparently had the author of the study, Derek Khanna, fired. Sure, debate around policy is important, but it’s clearly not as important as raising campaign funds. [More in the HBR]

And of course the US forces the cowardly legislators of weaker client countries like Australia to toe the line: Australian copyright terms have dutifully followed the bloating of US terms in lock step. Now whole swathes of literary and cinema creative material are out of bounds for Australians, just to satisfy a gang of greedy millionaires in Hollywood. What can you do about it? You can thank our Prime Minister for grovelling on your behalf, then go to sleep. You can do nothing. Good night.