The EU is Not Learning from Our Mistakes

by Reihan Salam

Mike Masnick of TechDirt describes the EU’s imbecilic copright extension:

[I]t looks like Denmark’s sudden caving (after quite a bit of lobbying from the entertainment industry) is quickly snowballing into the EU Commission moving forward with copyright term extension across Europe. Multiple economic studies have shown that such extensions do not benefit society. In fact, they rarely benefit the content creators who are paraded out as the reason for such extensions. Instead, the majority of the money goes to a few gatekeeper companies who hold a bunch of old copyrights. It’s pretty sad that the EU would so blatantly take content out of the public domain and give it to a few legacy companies.

What could possibly be the case for a retroactive copyright extension? The point of copyright is to encourage the creation of new works. A retroactive copyright extension applies to works that have already been created. As Masnick has written earlier on, the main political case for retroactive copyright extension usually involves tugging on heartstrings:

Now, the argument most commonly used in favor of retroactive copyright extension is an argument of welfare: that poor starving musicians need this money to survive. Of course, there are two key problems with this. The first is that copyright is not a welfare program. If we want to create a welfare program for musicians, then let the government be upfront and create a specifically funded welfare program for old musicians. But, it would need to defend why it’s doing that for old musicians as opposed to old “everyone else.” 

The bigger problem, however, is that copyright extension almost never actually helps those poor starving old musicians. Anyone who’s actually looked into this has seen that the vast majority of that cash goes directly to the major record labels. And if you think they’re going to start writing checks to those poor old musicians, you haven’t paid much attention to how those record labels handle their accounting. 

Imagine if legislators said to various media conglomerates, “You know, we’ve thought deeply about your proposal and we really get it. You just want to help poor starving musicians. To that end, we’ve created the Temporary Assistance to Starving Elderly Rockers (TASER).” I suspect that this proposal wouldn’t yield any high-dollar donations.