From the Opinion section of the L.A. Times
Copyright this – Los Angeles Times
A solution to determining which works are in the “Mickey Mouse” category of copyrights and which are in the more socially valuable “oral rehydration therapy” class of work is not feasible for a government bureaucracy. However, if all copyrights were taxed at a fixed (but significant) amount per year to maintain the copyright (all registered through the copyright office and searchable), there would be a significant carrying cost and most of the copyrighted material would revert to “public domain” and become available to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” As intellectual property and copyrights become an even more significant part of our economy, and as copyright holders (not necessarily the creators) make claims of “stealing” as though it is real property, it should be taxed. Relative to copyrights’ significance in our economy, the amount of revenue from this source should be in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
Interesting. On the other hand, copyright was originally a contract between the government and the creator of the work according to which the government offered to protect the work for the duration of the copyright in exchange for the work to become public domain afterwards. It is in the interest of the public to have the copyright period as short as possible – so that the work enters the public domain sooner – whereas the creators (or their representatives) would like to have the copyright as long as possible in order to make more money from their work. But the crucial element was the government offering laws and courts and public force, i.e. the police, to defend the copyright for its duration.
At present copyrights are too long and therefore of less interest to the public. For anything to take 75-100 years to enter the public domain is too long, especially when culture has sped up. Copyright-terms were extended several times in the recent past, while we all know that our culture is moving much faster than say, 50 years ago. Since the essence of copyright IS a contract offering protection of creative work for a certain amount of time, we have gone in exactly the wrong direction. That much is clear. At this point musical copyright can basically not be enforced, however hard some organizations may try, and the public has no interest in really enforcing anything because it takes nearly forever for the work to become public domain… A new deal must be made. A sensible copyright duration (10-20 years? I believe the original term offered in the U.S. was 14 years) in return for measures to either guard copyright better or create an ISP tax (speaking for music). The current situation reminds me of the tale about the Emperor’s new clothes… the deal isn’t working and isn’t right for the times and I think it is obvious.
The problem with the above suggestion in the L.A. TImes, that creators or their representatives should have to pay an annual “copyright property tax” is that this would first and foremost hurt the indies, whereas Disney would be happy to pay the copyright tax on Mickey Mouse for the next 1,000 years! Interesting approach, but a bad idea nonetheless.