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I've just been reading the news (click here or on the picture below) that Greg Ham of Men at Work has died; possibly by suicide.



 

Suicide or not, Ham was apparently depressed and emotionally and financially ruined by a copyright dispute over the 'flute riff' in their 80s hit Down Under that was a phrase from 'Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree' written more than 75 years ago for a Girl Guides competition by Marion Sinclair; who died in 1988.

Everyone with kids is familiar with this musical phrase.  It is as Australian as the first phrase in Waltzing Matilda (that he should have used instead).

This cause for depression is close to home as my father's death was certainly accelerated by a patent dispute.

From a pure market perspective intellectual property protection is often justified as a way of making trade secrets public but what is the market benefit in copyright; will artists and authors keep their work secret without it? Why should the public continue to pay for a lifetime, particularly after an artist/author is long dead?

Obviously I generally support the protection of intellectual property as an incentive for R&D and creativity but with some caveats. In particular I think that patents, like copyright, should be unexamined and consequently free; but once published on line; in a journal; or other public place; defensible in court. 

Because of the sheer volume of patents registered, acceptance by an examiner is no longer prima face evidence of patent validity; as my father discovered to his very high cost.  If there is a dispute it needs to go to court in any case.

On the other hand I think copyright is overprotected and should be pulled back to the same rules as patents - 20 years from first publishing. 

At one time both patents and copyright protection were limited to 16 years.  Of course I accept that there are too many vested interests, and too much money involved trading in copyright created by artists who seldom benefit, to go back to 16 years; particularly as it requires international agreement.

At least the Internet is dealing with excessive copyright protection in a different way.  A subject for future discussion...

 


 

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