Opposing Copyright Extension
Sample Letters to Congress
Letter dated January 22, 1997, from Dennis S. Karjala to Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging the withdrawal of her support for copyright extension.

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Click here to see the book chapter entitled The Term of Copyright mentioned in this letter (see below ). This chapter is a slight elaboration of my Written Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property on July 13, 1995 in opposition to H.R. 989 in the 104th Congress. It contains arguments more tightly focused on the unfounded claims that the United States will obtain benefits in international trade if the copyright term is extended.

January 22, 1997

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Extension of the Copyright Term of Protection

Dear Senator Feinstein:

As you know, the bill to extend the term of copyright protection by an additional 20 years (S. 483) failed to be enacted in the last Congress. While you were a sponsor of that bill, I write to urge you to reconsider your position when and if similar legislation is presented in the current Congress. This bill is NOT the "no lose" proposition that the special interests who are supporting it have claimed.

Very serious public costs are associated with copyright extension. It would impose higher royalty charges on the consuming public and hinder current authors who seek to make new and creative uses of elements from our rich cultural heritage. Congress should, at a minimum, make a careful study of these costs (as well as the highly exaggerated "benefits" asserted by extension supporters) before permanently depriving this country of 20 full years of a free and vibrant public domain. The public domain is the foundation upon which all current authors base their new creations.

I enclose a statement a book chapter I have written entitled "The Term of Copyright", in which I develop the arguments against extending copyright in some detail. Here I will simply try to summarize some of the main points.

The supposed international trade benefits of extension are, in fact, simply a smokescreen for taxing the U.S. public and current authors for an additional 20 years--for the benefit of distant descendants and assignees of creative authors from the 1920's. While it is true that owners of these old U.S. copyrights will not receive the benefits of the recently extended term in Europe, that is simply because Europe has adopted the discriminatory "rule of the shorter term." This discrimination is permitted, but definitely not required, by the Berne Convention. I personally believe that the current U.S. term (75 years for pre-1976 U.S. works) is long enough in both the U.S. and Europe. However, if the United States believes that owners of old U.S. copyrights should get the benefit of the longer European term, the solution is to use our trade representatives to encourage Europe to abandon its discriminatory rules. If Europe recognized "national treatment" on the term of protection (as the United States has always done), U.S. copyright owners would be protected for the full European term in Europe, without any change in our own term of protection.

It is not a coincidence that the United States has a huge surplus in international trade of current works (like our blockbuster films--which of course will remain protected well past the middle of the 21st century even without any extension). We are also the country that has always most jealously guarded its public domain, keeping it alive and vibrant so that new authors have both the incentive and the tools to create new works. The onset of the digital age is not the time blindly to follow the competition-choking philosophies of Europe just to put some royalty money into the pockets of a few U.S. owners of old copyrights.

And in any event, it is clear that the "little guy" who creates and markets works on his or her own will be hindered by transaction costs from preserving and enhancing old works and creating new ones in the process. Many small writers, archivists, historians, biographers, teachers, film makers, and multimedia producers will simply find something else to do rather than try to negotiate copyright licenses from multiple owners so many years after the creative authors' deaths. These owners have benefited from the copyright for 75 years--now it's time that they pay their constitutional dues by letting their works go into the public domain.

This legislation benefits ONLY special interests at a heavy cost to the American public. I realize that several large California enterprises seek adoption of this legislation and that it will take great courage on your part to take a stand favoring the public. Nevertheless, I hope that you can take a fresh look at who really will benefit and who will bear the very significant burden that copyright extension will bring with it.

Please feel free to call me at 602-965-4010 if I can be of any assistance whatsoever in this matter. I would be pleased to discuss these issues with your office.

Sincerely yours,

Dennis S. Karjala
Professor of Law

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Committee's Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property

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