NOTE I wrote this before I saw Mr. 914’s last post but got busy with other things before I had a chance to submit it. But now I have more things to do so here it is unchanged:
One part of this discussion which hasn’t really been touched upon, and which I haven’t fully figured out for myself, is the relative value of types of creations and when they become free, if ever.
If I invent something and get a utility patent I can profit from anybody recreating my invention for 20 years. A design patent is even less. After that I can still profit if I make it myself, but I have no control over who else makes it and can’t profit from their recreation.
If I write a book or a song I have rights to it until my death, and my heirs retain these rights for 70 years. Even for work for hire the copyright is in effect for 120 years. After that my heirs can no longer benefit, except perhaps by selling memorabilia.
If I make a painting or a sculpture, I believe all the same copyright rules are in effect for reproductions of the work. But unlike a book, where value is retained in the copies, the primary value is in the original (which is sold to someone else). And the original can exist and be sold essentially forever. I imagine for most works of art a couple centuries old, besides perhaps a dozen frequently reproduced works, the value of the original is far greater than 100 years of reproduction rights.
So we’re left with a system that makes some things free sooner than others, and leaves the creator with more or less of the value, either by decision or by the nature of the work. The company line for patents, as I’ve heard it, is that patents give you protection for your work, in exchange for full disclosure so that in time it can be recreated by all, for the overall benefit of society. This says to me that yes, you are allowed to profit from your work, but that work can have value for society that outweighs any claims that you should have exclusive rights forever. Which leads me to ask whether art (creations covered by copyright) has value for society (an easy yes) and whether or not its value to society outweighs claims that you should have exclusive rights forever, and furthermore, whether your heirs can make those claims.
Personally, I think the basic idea that a copyright is in effect for the creator’s life plus a little extra after which it is freely available is a good one. Give the author full benefit of their creation and creative control, but after they’re gone it is (at least can be) a valuable part of our culture, and at a certain point should be freely available throughout our culture. It’s similar to the patent trade-off, plus I don’t think any author can know what society will be like or what their heirs will do decades in the future, so I think it’s actually unreasonable to extend their control beyond a few decades (erring on the side of an open society). Personally, I think 70 years is a little long, but that’s probably due to my general feeling towards inheritance (I’m pro estate tax).
And yes, you should pay for your music - iTunes, CD, whatever. Small-time infractions should be overlooked as people spread the word of your music, but pay for the album if you’re going to keep it. Though I wonder if music distributors will ever go the way of print publishers and offer “classics” (past copyright recordings) at a significant discount - essentially distribution cost (approaching zero digitally) + profit.