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The Economics of Life ++ - Reflections on the Term of Copyright


  • Ejan Mackaay


Copyright, and indeed all intellectual property, reflects a compromise between the need for reward on creations we see by reserving them to the creator and the need to let information freely flow so as to permit further creations to emerge with as few encumbrances as possible. Over the past quarter century or so, all parameters of copyright have been moved towards more protection, disturbing the underlying compromise. The term of protection extends well beyond what is practically useful for the vast majority of creators, much as it may serve the needs of a small number of large players who hold important older copyrights still producing revenue. This paradoxical situation results from a few founding principles considered untouchable in the countries members of the Berne Convention: it is automatically obtained, without formality and for a uniform and rather lengthy term. If we want to redress the balance underlying copyright, we may have to call these principles into question and lead creators individually to reveal the value they attach to their right by renewing it, allowing it to lapse into the public domain when they no longer value it. Whilst this would reintroduce formalities into the structure of copyright, technological advances may make these less of a burden than they were at the time of their abolition. Alternatively, one might consider an interpretation of equitable exceptions to copyright (such as fair use and fair dealing) so as to expand them gradually as the copyright in question ages. Such approaches would have the fortunate effect of avoiding that lobbying by the happy few needlessly locks up culture for most of us. Le droit d'auteur, et à vrai dire tous les droits intellectuels, reflète un compromis entre la nécessité de faire miroiter au créateur une rémunération pour les créations que l'on voit, et la nécessité de laisser l'information circuler librement de manière à permettre à de nouvelles créations d'émerger avec aussi peu d'obstacles que possible. Au cours du dernier quart de siècle ou à peu près, tous les paramètres du droit d'auteur ont été déplacés vers plus de protection, perturbant l'équilibre sous-jacent. La durée de protection s'étend bien au-delà de ce qui est nécessaire en pratique pour la très vaste majorité des créateurs, même si elle sert bien les besoins d'une infime minorité de grands joueurs détenant des droits d'auteur qui ont un certain âge mais continuent à produire des revenus. Cette situation résulte des principes tenus pour immuables dans les pays membres de l'Union de Berne : le droit est obtenu automatiquement, sans formalité et pour une période uniforme et de longue durée. Pour redresser l'équilibre sous-jacent au droit d'auteur, il faudra remettre en question ces principes et amener les créateurs individuellement à révéler la valeur qu'ils attachent à leur droit en le renouvelant, permettant que le droit glisse dans le domaine public s'ils n'y attachent plus de valeur suffisante. S'il est vrai qu'une telle approche réintroduirait des formalités dans le droit d'auteur, les avances techniques intervenues depuis leur abolition rendent l'accomplissement de ces formalités moins onéreux que dans le temps. Alternativement, on pourrait envisager une interprétation des exceptions équitables au droit d'auteur, comme le fair use ou l'utilisation équitable, de manière à les étendre à mesure que le droit d'auteur en question prend de l'âge. De telles approches auraient l'heureux effet d'éviter que le lobbying par les happy few entrainerait le verrouillage inutile de beaucoup de culture pour le commun des mortels.

Suggested Citation

  • Ejan Mackaay, 2011. "The Economics of Life ++ - Reflections on the Term of Copyright," CIRANO Working Papers 2011s-38, CIRANO.
  • Handle: RePEc:cir:cirwor:2011s-38

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Intellectual property; copyright; term; fair dealing; Propriété intellectuelle; droit d'auteur; durée; utilisation équitable.;

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