In his April 8 commentary (“Fix Drugs and Rock & Roll“), Dave Wilson says that copyright terms of life plus 70 years exceed the constitutional standard of a “limited time,” and as a result, they stifle innovation. He goes on to blame the recording industry for these lengthy terms.
While the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was named to honor the late recording artist and congressman, credit (or blame) for the act generally is given to the Walt Disney Company. Mickey Mouse and other characters from its early history were soon to have entered the public domain. However, Congress may simply have wanted to harmonize U.S. policy with that of Europe, the ostensible purpose of the act.
The act was challenged on various constitutional grounds, including the one advanced by Mr. Wilson, but the Supreme Court upheld it by a 7–2 vote.
Nonetheless, many of Mr. Wilson’s points are well taken. The courts have affirmed that the purpose of copyrights and patents is to motivate creative works that the public can ultimately enjoy freely. Having protections last for only “limited times” is essential for achieving this goal.
Therefore, I would hope Mr. Wilson might join me in protest over FCC action to date on IBOC digital radio. Authorizing the system with secret specifications in perpetuity is itself contrary to the “limited times” restraint on government-granted rights. And as a consequence, as Mr. Wilson says, innovation in digital radio has been stifled.