One of the main reasons we grant copyright is an incentive: we want to encourage people to make things, and companies to invest in making them available.
But it’s not just about incentives (which is why my colleague Kim Weatherall and I told the Productivity Commission that it would be wrong to treat copyright as being purely economic in nature). Copyright is also granted to reward authors for their contributions of personality and labour.
Authors’ moral claims have real validity and power – and that’s why authors are always at the centre of debates about whether we should have more or less copyright.
Broken down in these components, you can see that the interests of investors and authors are different. Investors’ interests are purely economic, and we can use basic economic modelling to calculate what is necessary is satisfy them. Widely accepted calculations (including from these five Nobel Laureates and their colleagues) shows us that about 25 years of rights is ample to incentivise even the most expensive investments.
Beyond that amount, copyright is justifiable only by authors’ moral claims to those above-incentive rewards.
Problematically though, investors often take the lion’s share of that rewards share too – for example, by requiring authors to sign over rights for the entire copyright term – their lifetime and another seventy years after that.
That is, although the investor’s interest is purely economic, they often use their bargaining power to capture authors’ rewards shares as well. That’s one of the key reasons why, despite all the money sloshing around the creative industries, creators tend to get such a small share.
This is all a bit dry and technical I know – so with the help of a friend (whose day job involves making stop-motion videos for 7-eleven) I’ve made a video in which I pour various things into various other things to try and make it clearer. Check it out below: