Friday, December 06, 2013

How long after publication, should an author’s work become freely available to the public?

I think ten years is a good length of time for any creative work to make its money. After that the work should be in the public domain - i.e. available for anyone to copy and share for free. If you haven't made enough money after 10 years then your work probably isn't good enough!

Take Star Wars for example. It made more than its money back in box office receipts alone (not to mention the merchendise). Yet over the last 36 years I have personally paid to see it at the cinema twice (in 1977 and 1997), rented it on VHS, watched and recorded it’s premiere on ITV, bought five VHS versions, two DVD versions, one Blu-ray version and downloaded Hammy’s brilliant de-specialised editions for free. If I had been lucky enough to afford a laser disc player, I’d have bought that version too. Do I feel cheated each time I have to pay full price again for a film on a new format - damn right I do!

I’m sure Lucas does not need anymore money, especially now that he has retired, but you can’t blame him for taking what’s legally owed to him, because if he didn’t the studios would. The problem lies in the middlemen who see creativity only as an opportunity to make money without respecting the authors need to communicate with the world. There should be an equal balance between the two.

After ten years (when the film business should have made an acceptable profit), rather than adding excessive and unnecessary profit margins every time its re-released, wouldn’t it be more ethical to charge audiences a small fee to cover manufacturing, packaging, marketing costs (if at all needed in the digital age) and re-mastering/archiving costs?

For example, perhaps after ten years a British film’s copyright, could be automatically transferred to the BFI where they then have an obligation to make that film available to the public (at the best quality possible for each platform) for a small archival fee.

Of course other creative works based on that work (re-make, re-imagine, sequel, prequel, game, merchandise, novel etc.) that are produced for commercial gain would still require relevant permission from the author . However this would exclude fan-based work for non-commercial gain.

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