[Fsfe-ie] Software freedom arguments against copyright extension

Bob Jolliffe bobjolliffe at gmail.com
Mon Apr 11 23:04:21 CEST 2011

Hi Ciarán

Despite being vigorously opposed to the extension of copyright for all
sorts of cultural, social and political reasons, I do find it hard to
see how the extension of term has a direct effect on free software.
(I think the indirect effect of reinforcing a particular narrative of
maximalist copyright is harmful to all of us as human beings).  And
one of the harmful effects of treating recorded music, books and
computer programs the same is to abstract away from what these rights
actually achieve in their different spheres.  Of course we see this
much more plainly with patents where regimes which are seen to be most
suitable for the pharma industry are applied to the computer industry.

Regarding copyright it might be useful to look at it from the GPL
perspective.  The GPL makes constructive use of copyright to construct
new bundlings of rights and obligations for users, follow on
innovators etc.  Its interesting to ponder what (if any) impact an
extension of term has on this arrangement.   Would there be an "ideal"
term from a GPL perspective?  What are the scenarios of GPL code
finding itself into the public domain on the expiration of term, given
that the 50/70/100 year old code would likely have more recent
development added to it which would also be GPL?  I suspect that what
the GPL effectively does is render the amount of time of the term
fairly irrelevant.

Looking at proprietary software, for example the copyright on the
likes of windoze XP, then one could think that a world where the
copyright expired after 5 years would be markedly different. While
there is still hardware to be had to run the 5 year old software then
this could be relevant for example in many African countries.  But
once we start talking in ballparks of 70 years, the length of the term
is simply not relevant, regardless of whether we talk free or

of course taking a more de-industrialized view of computer programs
and seeing them more as cultural artefacts rather than products which
execute on machines might change the way you look at these things.  My
own view is that the copyright term is far too long to the extent that
extending or keeping it the same is much of a muchness.  If we were
proposing a considerably shortened copyright term of say 5 years then
that would have a considerable impact on the use of software in the
world but that is perhaps just being fanciful.


On 11 April 2011 14:02, Ciarán O'Riordan <ciaran at member.fsf.org> wrote:
> There's a proposal for an EU directive to lengthen copyright for certain
> works.  We sent an IFSO mail today (text below) to the only Irish MEP on the
> European Parliament's legal affairs committee (JURI), Brian Crowley (FF).
> Our mail was brief because it's such short notice, but when we have to write
> another letter later on in the process, what software freedom arguments
> should we use, and what documents back up those arguments?
> Arguments are easy to find, but *free software* arguments, in a form for a
> non-programmer, are tougher - but it's what we need.
> Any ideas?
> The dossier for the proposed directive is here:
> http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/file.jsp?id=5667672
> ========================8<----------------------------
> Dear Mr. Crowley,
> Irish Free Software Organisation (IFSO) opposes the extension of copyright
> which may be put to a vote in JURI today or tomorrow, and we ask that you do
> the same.  Further, we ask for your support in requesting a new first
> reading for this proposed directive.
> Software companies with dominant market positions are increasingly using the
> copyright of cultural works as a barrier to block other software developers.
> Due to Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), music lovers can be required
> to use the software of a small group of "approved" large software companies,
> or be blocked from listening to DRM'd music.
> A few large companies are protected from competition, and the majority of
> software developers are locked out - including all the "small artists" of
> the software field.
> For people who object to DRM, or who don't find any acceptable software
> among the "approved" group, there is still public domain works.  Extending
> copyright impoverishes the public domain and our cultural heritage.
> Below is a selection of links to independent studies highlighting the harms
> of copyright extension.
> Yours sincerely,
> Ciarán O'Riordan, +32 487 64 17 54
> Irish Free Software Organisation
> http://ifso.ie/
>  1. 8 Universities and policy centres issued this 2-page
>    statement about how the proposal would harm Europe's culture
>    and economy:
>    http://www.cippm.org.uk/downloads/Press%20Release%20Copyright%20Extension.pdf
>  2. UK government's "Gower's review", which concluded that:
>    "The European Commission should retain the length of
>     protection on sound recordings and performers’ rights at 50
>     years."  (page "56" - which is the 60th page of the PDF document)
>    http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/pbr06_gowers_report_755.pdf
>  3. Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam:
>    "Never Forever: Why Extending the Term of Protection for Sound
>    Recordings is a Bad Idea"
>    http://www.ivir.nl/publications/helberger/EIPR_2008_5.pdf
> ========================8<----------------------------
> --
> Ciarán O'Riordan, +32 487 64 17 54, http://ciaran.compsoc.com
> Please help build the software patents wiki: http://en.swpat.org
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