Eleven times in the last 40 years it has been extended for existing works–not just for new works that are going to be created, but existing works. The most recent is the Sonny Bono copyright term extension act. Those of us who love it know it as the Mickey Mouse protection act, which of course [means] every time Mickey is about to pass through the public domain, copyright terms are extended. The meaning of this pattern is absolutely clear to those who pay to produce it. The meaning is: No one can do to the Disney Corporation what Walt Disney did to the Brothers Grimm. That though we had a culture where people could take and build upon what went before, that’s over. There is no such thing as the public domain in the minds of those who have produced these 11 extensions these last 40 years because now culture is owned.
Remember the refrain: We always build on the past; the past always tries to stop us. Freedom is about stopping the past, but we have lost that ideal.
Things are different now, [different] from even when Walt produced the Walt Disney Corporation. In this year now, we have a massive system to regulate creativity. A massive system of lawyers regulating creativity as copyright law has expanded in unrecognizable forms, going from a regulation of publishing to a regulation of copying. You know the things that computers do when you boot them up? Going from copies to, not just copies of the original work, but even derivative works on top of it. Going from 14 years for new works produced by a real author–there are fewer and fewer of those people out there–to life plus 70 years. That’s the expansion of law, but also there’s been an expansion of control through technology.
OK, so first of all, this reality of opaque creativity, you know that as proprietary code. Creativity where you don’t get to see how the thing works, and the law protects the thing you can’t see. It’s not Shakespeare that you can study and understand because the code is, by nature, open. Nature has been reformed in our modern, technological era, so nature can be hidden and the law still protects it–and not just through the protection, but through increasing control of uses of creative work.
Here’s my Adobe eBook Reader, right. Some of you have seen this before, I’m sure. Here’s Middle March; this is a work in the public domain. Here are the “permissions” (a lawyer had something to do with this) that you can do with this work in the public domain: You are allowed to copy ten selections into the clipboard every ten days–like, who got these numbers, I don’t know–but you can print ten pages of this 4 million page book every ten days, and you are allowed to feel free to use the read-aloud button to listen to this book, right?
Now, Aristotle’s Politics, another book in the public domain [that was] never really protected by copyright, but with this book, you can’t copy any text into the selection, you can’t print any pages, but feel free to listen to this book aloud. And to my great embarrassment, here’s my latest book, right? No copying, no printing, and don’t you dare use the technology to read my book aloud. [Laughter] I’ll have a sing button in the next version of Adobe. Read a book; read a book.
The point is that control is built into the technology. Book sellers in 1760 had no conception of the power that you coders would give them some day in the future, and that control adds to this expansion of law. Law and technology produce, together, a kind of regulation of creativity we’ve not seen before. Right? Because here, here’s a simple copyright lesson: Law regulates copies. What’s that mean? Well, before the Internet, think of this as a world of all possible uses of a copyrighted work. Most of them are unregulated. Talking about fair use, this is not fair use; this is unregulated use. To read is not a fair use; it’s an unregulated use. To give it to someone is not a fair use; it’s unregulated. To sell it, to sleep on top of it, to do any of these things with this text is unregulated. Now, in the center of this unregulated use, there is a small bit of stuff regulated by the copyright law; for example, publishing the book–that’s regulated. And then within this small range of things regulated by copyright law, there’s this tiny band before the Internet of stuff we call fair use: Uses that otherwise would be regulated but that the law says you can engage in without the permission of anybody else. For example, quoting a text in another text–that’s a copy, but it’s a still fair use. That means the world was divided into three camps, not two: Unregulated uses, regulated uses that were fair use, and the quintessential copyright world. Three categories.
Enter the Internet. Every act is a copy, which means all of these unregulated uses disappear. Presumptively, everything you do on your machine on the network is a regulated use. And now it forces us into this tiny little category of arguing about, “What about the fair uses? What about the fair uses?” I will say the word: To hell with the fair uses. What about the unregulated uses we had of culture before this massive expansion of control? Now, unregulated uses disappear, we argue about fair use, and they find a way to remove fair use, right? Here’s a familiar creature to many of you, right? The wonderful Sony Aibo Pet, which you can teach to do all sorts of things. Somebody set up a wonderful aibopet.com site to teach people how to hack their dogs. Now remember, their dogs, right? And this site actually wanted to help you hack your dog to teach your dog to dance jazz. Remember (Europeans are sometimes confused about this), it’s not a crime to dance jazz in the United States.