By Nina Paley and Karl Fogel
When the copyright industry lobbies for extensions to already-long copyright terms, they always present it as a way of giving the artists of the past their due — as a further protection of the “moral rights” that artists have in their creations.
But consider this: many artists of the past were forced to sign over their copyrights in order to work at all. They may have taken comfort in the fact that copyright would expire after a set time, and in knowing that people would eventually be able to share their work freely. Today, when copyright terms are continually extended, we should stop and wonder if these extensions go against the wishes of the works’ dead creators. Few artists of the 1920’s or 30’s had the option of saying, “I want people to share my work”, but they at least knew that copyrights would expire after 28 years — if the terms had been left alone, that is — and this may have made a temporary lockup more acceptable to them.
How many of those artists are rolling over in their graves now, as copyright is continually extended? Just because the Disney Corporation thinks copyright should be forever doesn’t mean the thousands of artists whose works are now locked up thought so, or would think so now. The fact that so many artists are adopting Creative Commons licenses today indicates that many artists believe otherwise. If artists have “moral rights” to their works, surely extending copyright terms without their consent violates those rights.