There Is No Cat

Hollering into the void since 2002

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Free The Mouse!

I've ranted in this space a couple of times about copyright extension and the danger it poses. Other people are actually doing something about it. Lawrence Lessig, The Most Wired Lawyer In America, and a bunch of other lawyers, are taking a case to the Supreme Court that challenges the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act as unconstitutional. I'm not usually in the habit of recommending casual reading of legal briefs for anything but their sedative effect, but the opening brief submitted to the Supremes by the plaintiffs (PDF, 153 KB) is actually a remarkably clearly written history of copyright law, if you skip over the legal citations and a bit toward the end where it gets a little dull.

Reading the brief reminded me that you used to have to specifically request a copyright extension. The initial term varied at different points in history, but in my lifetime, the standard was 28 years from the publishing date, with an additional 28 years if you asked for it. In light of the problems this case highlights of how the vast majority of copyrighted material that is being prevented from falling into the public domain are not being used and are not producing any royalties or income for the copyright holders, if they can even be traced, it seems to me that a return to a system where copyright had to be renewed makes a lot of sense. That's not what they're asking for in this case, mind you; they just want to throw out the most recent extension. But ideally, letting fallow materials drift out of copyright while providing for (reasonable) extensions for productive materials seems to me to be an excellent balance between the rights of producers and consumers. Of course, it made so much sense that we threw that away in 1978, but no matter....

And besides, if there is no cat, it's only fair that we free the mouse....

Posted at 11:22 PM

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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