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[dvd-discuss] Petition for rational copyright law

[Not quite DVD-related, but important]

The Supreme Court's decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft told us we'd have 
to take our case to Congress to reclaim for public use the vast 
quantity of art and literature under copyright but out of print.  The 
draft Public Domain Enhancement Act would help do that by requiring 
copyright holders to pay a nominal fee 50 years after publication.

Under this proposed Act, copyright holders still commercially 
exploiting their copyrights could retain those copyrights, and would 
update the records telling others where to contact them for 
licensing.  Works that copyright holders didn't value at even $1, 
however, would go into the public domain -- where others might find 
new ways to use them.

We think this Act would restore some of the public's copyright 
balance.   If you agree, please consider signing the petition below:

Thanks for your interest in Openlaw!

--- petition: <http://www.PetitionOnline.com/eldred/petition.html> ---

To:  Members of the United States Congress

We, the undersigned, while believing in the importance of copyright, 
also believe in the importance of the public domain. We believe the 
public domain is crucial to the spread of knowledge and culture, and 
crucial in assuring access to our past. We therefore write to 
petition you to reconsider major changes that you have made to the 
copyright system. These changes unnecessarily threaten the public 
domain without any corresponding benefit to copyright holders.

In 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 
(CTEA). That Act extended the term of all existing copyrights by 20 
years. But as Justice Breyer calculated, only 2% of the work 
copyrighted during the initial 20 years affected by this statute has 
any continuing commercial value at all. The balance has disappeared 
from the commercial marketplace, and, we fear, could disappear from 
our culture generally.

For example: The vast majority of film created during the 1920s and 
1930s is not commercially available. Because of the CTEA, much of it 
remains under copyright. Yet because it is often impossible to track 
down the copyright owners for these films, commercial and 
noncommercial preservationist and distributors cannot safely restore 
and distribute these films. And because these films were made from 
nitrate-based stock, by the time the copyright to these films expire, 
most of them will have dissolved.

The same is true with many other copyrighted works that are no longer 
commercially available. Though the Internet could facilitate the 
distribution of this work if the copyright owners could be 
identified, the costs of locating these copyright owners is wildly 
prohibitive. Schools and libraries are thus denied access to works 
that otherwise could be made available at a very low cost.

Such burdens on access to work that has no continuing commercial 
value serves no legitimate copyright purpose. It certainly does not 
"promote the Progress of Science" as the Constitution requires. We 
therefore ask Congress to consider changes to the current regime that 
would free unused content from continued regulation, while respecting 
the rights of existing copyright owners.

One solution in particular that we ask Congress to consider is the 
Public Domain Enhancement Act. See http://eldred.cc This statute 
would require American copyright owners to pay a very low fee (for 
example, $1) fifty years after a copyrighted work was published. If 
the owner pays the fee, the copyright will continue for whatever 
duration Congress sets. But if the copyright is not worth even $1 to 
the owner, then we believe the work should pass into the public 

This legislation would strengthen the public domain without burdening 
copyright owners. It would also help clarify rights over copyrighted 
material, which in turn would enable reuse of that material. The law 
could thus help restore balance to the protection of copyright, and 
support the public domain.

We therefore call upon Congress to introduce this legislation, and to 
hold hearings on the benefits that it might have to reviving a 
vibrant public domain.

When technologists have given us a tool that could spread knowledge 
universally, we should not allow the law to get in the way. The law 
does so now. This Congress should change it.


The Undersigned

More information: <http://eldred.cc/>
Wendy Seltzer -- wendy@seltzer.com || wendy@eff.org
Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School
Chilling Effects: http://www.chillingeffects.org/