I am interested in continuing to discuss the merits of intellectual property rights, but we should stick to the topic.
I agree with most of your argument and would like to expand on it.
Currently, we know:
- The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years. Since the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright would last for the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for a work of corporate authorship. The Act extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier. Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978, was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date.
- This current copyright law requires vigilance on the part of the copyright owner to legally pursue any and all infringers of their property with the intention of ending any infringement. "Legally pursue" now includes legal entities (citizens and corporations) from one country arresting a legal entity in another country. The Megaupload arrests are the latest example of this. I'm not insinuating any innocence or culpability in this case, I'm merely using it as an example of how legal entities can now use their governments to pursue individuals in other countries (this in itself is frightening). The ultimate infringement here is loss of revenue to the content creators. If there was no loss of income, I doubt anything would have been done.
Entire legal teams exist only to pursue patent infringement. The latest example is in the crop fields of the USA where Monsanto sues farmers who inadvertently grow a few feet of Roundup Ready Soybean because a few seeds found their way onto the "infringing" farmer's land. Their actions are protected (and prompted) by our patent laws. (A dirt road typically separates one farmer's land from another).
BTW, Monsanto lawyers have shut down the majority of seed harvesters because kernels of their hybrids were found in the harvester's combines. This has effectively shut down the ability for farmers to grow heirloom food plants, drastically reducing the number of food varieties available to the consumer. These actions, too, are protected and prompted by our patent laws. A worst-case scenario from these actions would be entire crops wiped out (i.e., billions of acres) by a chemical-resistant strain of bug, weed or virus causing a massive, world-wide food shortage.
We have never lived in an economy or society with very short copyright and patent terms. Only speculation can be made as to what would occur. I speculate that innovation would occur at a logarithmic rate of increase. Some claim that innovation would cease. The classic example being that it wouldn't be economically viable to produce, say, a cancer cure. I speculate that if Company X declined to produce such a drug, then Company Y, Z or Ω would step in to provide the product.
I include these examples of patent protection because it and copyright protection both fall under laws for the protection of intellectual property, and legal arguments for one can be easily applied to the other. This is because the ultimate aim of these laws is to protect the revenue derived from the intellectual property.
When we talk about photography, the immediate inclination is to view the copyright as a tool that protects income. Back in the 1970's and 1980's stock photography expanded greatly and provided many photographers with a good income. Comstock being the highest profile in 1984, with the owners taking crews to the Bahamas and producing classic BIBOB (babe in bikini on beach) images which sold by the truckload. Production costs ran about $200,000 with total sales at $1,000,000 it wasn't a bad investment (source: PDN, 2/1984). All these images are protected under the copyright act, but now Comstock's library is a part of Jupiter Images, which is a part of Getty Images. Getty Images' revenue was about $400,000,000 in 2008.
All the content that created revenue is protected by copyright laws, but now the business model is being eaten away by royalty-free imagery. This move to a royalty-free business model is caused and/or motivated by two things: quick access to billions of images via the internet, and the democratization of images. More people are producing photographs now than at any time in history. It's a buyer's market out there, but the content is still protected by copyright laws. If copyrights were reduced to 10 years total, would it affect this business model? Not significantly, because the rate of image creation will keep accelerating, and a better or more appropriate image would soon be available.
Outside the world of stock photography, we have images from Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, for example. How is copyright protection a benefit to others? One way is that I can log onto the Ansel Adams gallery and buy a print from an original negative. The same is true for Weston's work. Because of the copyright laws, the gallery can retain control of the reproduction of the images and customers will receive a print that's been produced professional and with care to the content's reproduction. In addition to this benefit to the marketplace, the family heirs of both Adams and Weston receive financial revenue (Matthew Adams and Cara Weston, respectively). I speculate both Adams and Weston would appreciate this.
Lastly, I see, Trailpixie you copyright the content of your web site. As an advocate for minimal or zero copyrights, why do you do this? (I'm curious, not antagonistic).