Copyright Term Extensions, Historically

Here’s how I came to be so interested in intellectual property, in policy, and the technical aspects of both of these things. I’ve traced some of my more structured fascination back to this Keynote (as opposed to PowerPoint) presentation by Lawrence Lessig. This presentation built on the anger I felt when I saw that Tom Dooley was a copyrighted work. My grandmother taught me Tom Dooley, and Cotton Pickin’ and Mountain Dew, and in my copy of Rise Up Singing they were all copyrighted. I was filled with righteous anger. How could people make money off of works which I learned from my grandmother? What did it mean that I could not publically perform songs which she told me she had learned back home in Tennessee when she was a girl?

I am sure, being the vocal person I am, I brought up my anger in one of my classes with Ms Nace. Later, she sent me this keynote:

In the version I had, the last slide was a list of websites I could go to if I wanted to learn more. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was one of them. I applied for an internship, got it, and here I am today, four years later, in love with the Berkman Center and planning on Law School after undergrad.

In support of the presentation above, I found this amazing graph:

Historical Increases in Copyright Terms
Historical Increases in Copyright Terms

I found it when I was researching the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The graph is, fittingly, licensed under Creative Commons Share-Alike License. It is also fairly damning evidence of the stead historical increase in copyright terms. This is a trend which I have never heard fully explained–do we in 2008 need so much more protection than Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway or The Brothers Grimm?

Inspirational Quote:

Dick Armey – “You cannot get ahead while you are getting even.”


  1. Thank you for your insightful article about intellectual property and copyright.
    But please don’t breach the rememberance (not the copyright) of the Brothers Grimm by making two mistakes in a row when writing down their name.

  2. If I am not mistaken, 1998 was still with Clinton Administration. This proves that John Mccain’s assumption was wrong in his Al Smith dinner speech — quote — “I am pretty sure big rats are republican.” 🙂

  3. Thanks for blogging the Open Rights Group cartoon on copyright term extension. We have now uploaded the speech given by Becky Hogge, outgoing Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, at our conference in the European Parliament last month:

    If you like it please consider blogging the video and spreading the word!

    Many thanks

    Open Rights Group

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