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(MintPress) – Copyright laws in the U.S. are woefully antiquated — sometimes keeping music or works of literature out of the public domain for as long as 120 years after production.
Maria Pallante, register of copyrights, testified before a Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Committee on the Judiciary last week, urging an overhaul of the current laws.
“The law is showing the strain of its age,” Pallante said. “[A]uthors do not have effective protections, good faith businesses do not have clear roadmaps, courts do not have sufficient direction, and consumers and other private citizens are increasingly frustrated.”
The original U.S. Copyright term was 14 years, but was later extended 70 years past the death of the author. Pieces that are created by corporations are protected for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication — whichever comes first. Computer software frequently receives this type of copyright protection and many products created by Apple, Microsoft and others could remain outside the public domain for 100 years or more if current laws remain unchanged.
“As a means to protect independent cultural producers, in other words, U.S. copyrights are downright laughable. Yet the problems of copyright law in the U.S. both extend wider and go further back than that,” writes Anne Elizabeth Moore, Fulbright scholar and author.
Once a work enters the public domain, it can be disseminated widely and freely by any citizen. William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” are just a few of the most famous works currently in the public domain.
The basis of current U.S. Copyright laws date back to the Berne Convention of 1886, a convention of 165 countries establishing a minimum set of copyright standards. Although most countries in the world are signatories, states can and often do establish different copyright laws that can complicate legal disputes regarding whether a work is copyrighted or part of the public domain.
Consumers’ access to creative works is limited when stringent copyright laws keep copyrighted material out of the public domain for lengthy periods.
Women’s rights scholars also decry the laws as promoting a stereotypical or misogynistic depictions of women. The Copyright Act of 1976 does not allow copyrights for creative works depicting women cooking, quilting or sewing — allegedly because these works are intended for public use and portray common images that are not attributable to an author.
The 1976 law was partially amended with the passage of the 1996 Digital Millennium Copyright Act that created new guidelines in the nascent Internet age.
Feminist scholars posit that the current copyright laws reify gender stereotypes that allow works showing women as subservient or in domestic roles to be widely spread.
“Media, art and entertainment are chief exports of the U.S. — popular even if cheap or freely distributed. Even when spread illegally, narratives tend to promote conspicuous consumption, suggesting and fostering a values system that favours the corporate at every turn, not unlike the legislation itself,” Moore writes.