Copyright is really messed up

Last week a U.S. judge ruled that Warner/Chappell Music does not own a valid copyright to Happy Birtimgreshday to You so it is now in the public domain. And Warner
When the song has been used for commercial purposes, such as in films, Warner has enforced its rights, and took in an estimated $2 million in royalties each year.
Now it must pay it all back.
An advertisement on the Internet reads: ‘Register and Protect  your creative work online by an Official Copyright. Copyright $49. Our copyright deposit service is based on the International Bern Convention covering 163 countries.’
In fact, old chap, it is the Berne Convention. Note the extra ‘e’. This is not connected with how it is spelled in Germany. And as coverage is, in almost every case, automatic and free, why would you pay? To protect it in Tonga?
What is worrying publishers, and their lawyers, is the ease with which copyright can be infringed by the Internet. That is where all the problems lie — the Internet. Publishers see it as a deathly threat and they are right.
Meanwhile, in Australia the libraries in the ACT are campaigning for copyright reform. They have joined a campaign calling for unpublished documents like handwritten recipes, letters and photographs to have the same copyright law as published documents.
At the moment it is madness. An example: My father was in the British contingent under General Ironfor sorgaiside that was sent to Archangel to fight for the White Russians against the naughty communists.  He was shot and was in hospital in Russia for six months. He wrote home a lot. Can those letters be published in Australia?
Sarah Steed, Senior Manager, Content and Engagement, Libraries ACT ‘Currently copyright law in Australia says unpublished documents however have a copyright on them forever.’
Sorry, dad, under the law you will remain a mute, inglorious Milton. Even if the campaign succeeds it would be 2045 before they could see the light of Internet day.
A group of librarians in Australia are trying a PR stunt – baking cakes and biscuits — to encourage the Attorney-General to look at changing the law so that unpublished works are treated the same way as published ones.
Here lies madness. nla
Published works get life-of-author-plus-70-years. Librarians believe this enables more educational and historical materials to be offered to  students. Which is a very narrow view of the situation. It means that works of, say, Olaf Ruhen, who died in 1989, will not be seen on the Internet until 2059. He was, perhaps, not a great writer but his works as a whole — and they are all out of print — are, in my view, an important part of Australian history and should not have to wait that long. I would like to see them electronically available on the Internet.
Perhaps one solution is to have copyright as an extension of patent law. Patents expire for 20 years after the filing date, at which point they can be re-registered  At least this way we will bring some clarity to a very messy situation.

About Gareth Powell

Welsh to the point of affectation. Retired publisher, journalist, author, truck driver, circus hand, sergeant. Lives in Australia and England. Prefers writing to almost any other human activity.

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