(c) & TM Berke Breathed
While everyone else is talking in circles, Amazon (via Kindle) has taken the first practical steps in solving the copyright quandary.
In a nutshell:
- Copyright exists to supply new ideas for the public at large to use freely.
- To encourage this, exclusive copyright is granted to creators so they may, for a short period of time, have exclusive control over their creation and profit from it.
- However, at the behest of large multi-national corporations, copyright has been extended to ridiculously long periods of time. Characters, music, and works of art that should be in the public domain, free for all to use, are now locked up tighter that the proverbial frog’s alimentary canal.
Amazon’s 2-step solution:
First, Kindle Worlds. Essentially authorized fan-fiction. Creators can take certain existing licensed properties and write their own stories based on them.
So, you say? Fans have been doing that for years — decades!
True, but now it’s authorized, meaning the writers of those works can legally sell them through Amazon and see royalties from them.
Not the same thing as genuine public domain (there are restrictions and limitations) but it does allow people to spin off ideas from certain existing works.
Second, Kindle Unlimited. Easiest way to describe this is Netflix for e-books. Ya plops yer $9.99 down and you can read as many of 600,000 e-books as you can in a month. Amazon shaves a micropayment off your $9.99 every time you access a title and drops it into the author’s account.
Technically you are not buying the books, you are buying access to them; in this sense it’s no different from an old fashion rental library.
The difference is that you don’t have to schelp down to said library to obtain / return borrowed material; it’s all just a double-click away.
Now, in fairness, not all creators are happy with this. They view this as Amazon changing the rules of the game after the ball is in play. They also worry — with some justification — that it might have a negative impact on their revenue stream.
They may be right, but there is also a certain historical inevitability to all this. Thirty years ago a VHS video tape could cost anywhere from $35 upwards; today you can legally stream any movie you desire for just a fraction of that cost.
Consumers want more + faster + cheaper.
That leaves the last part of the equation still unfulfilled:
How can one limit copyright and return works to the public domain where they belong, yet at the same time afford reasonable protection to individuals and business entities that have invested a lot of money in developing and exploiting those ideas?
I mean, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet re Disney’s abuse of copyright and believe a lot of their characters should be released into the wild, so to speak, but at the same time I don’t want the company crippled to the point where Disneyland closes or new Disney produced works aren’t released.
If I were king of the forest, I would create a few service mark just for this situation: The Official Version ™.
To use Disney as an example, only they would be allowed to release Official Mickey Mouse ™ media and merchandise…
But anybody else could make a Mickey Mouse cartoon…
And have it look like Mickey…
And offer it for sale (or download)…
It just wouldn’t be the “official” version.
And we creators may know that term is meaningless in terms of creativity, that Disney the corporation never created one blessed thing but always hired artists and writers and composers to create it…
…but nonetheless, people keep flocking to Disneyland and buying Mickey Mouse T-shirts and eagerly downloading the movies and games as they become available.
That imprimatur carries an emotional weight to most consumers, and they’ll gladly pay for the real thing.
(Caveat: There’s still a big Gordian knot to untangle re derivative rights — if I write an opera based on Mickey Mouse when does it go into the public domain? — but that’s a relatively easy task compared to the challenge of revamping copyright fairly.)
 Which regardless of what the Supreme Court says, are human beings and not fictitious business entities.
 A form of deficit financing: Creator takes the risk but stands to benefit first & most if the idea takes off.
 They’re splitting the royalties with the original rights holders, but hey, X% of anything is better than 100% of nada…
 And ironically, big budget blockbusters have bigger & better box office than before, while independent and niche films that could never have won a large general release are finding – or rather, being found by — every member of their potential audience no matter how remotely located.
 And if Disney is still in business when it does, can they then make a version using their Official Mickey Mouse ™ and copyright that?