The Null Device
This week, the European parliament will vote on extending the copyright term for sound recordings to 70 years, a vote made possible by Denmark dropping its opposition. The extension, if it passes (which is likely), will do for the next 20 or so years until valuable corporate monopoly rights are once again threatened by the encroachment of the public domain. And so on, at least until the powers that be judge that the metaphor of "intellectual property" as a natural right is sufficiently embedded in the public consciousness that they can dispense with the increasingly flimsy pretense of copyright being a limited, short-term trade-off for the public good, and scrap the expiry of copyrights once and for all.
Meanwhile, here is a very insightful article setting out exactly why copyright law as we know it is broken; i.e., that powerful vested interests have hijacked the regulatory mechanisms, and subverted a compromise for the public good into being purely about reinforcing private benefit:
Here’s a slightly absurd example: make it so that in Britain, only the Royal Shakespeare Company can perform Shakespeare. They would be granted exclusive rights in perpetuity to perform Shakespeare. They would do fantastically out of it. They could charge through the nose, and make bucket loads, because there would be no other way of seeing Shakespeare being performed.
There is no public good being served here except in a secondary fashion (the company would be taxed and those taxes could be used to provide public services etc.). Indeed, a great deal of public harm is being done because a culture where only one theatre company are allowed to perform Shakespeare is a much worse off culture. What if someone wants to come along and do a radically different interpretation of the same play? Like, oh, set Romeo and Juliet in New York City and replace the houses of Montague and Capulet with two teenage street gangs roughly based on Italian Catholics and Jews. Or perhaps replace them with the Israelis and Palestinians (West Bank Story). Or perhaps some new interesting technology like cinema or radio happens and you want to adapt it to the new technology.