We need copyright

April 11, 2003

The duration of UK copyright was increased from 50 to 70 years not, as Chris Bunting writes ("Why should 'dead authors' descendants steal the livelihood of living writers", THES, April 4), because of "huge lobbying efforts by corporate interests", but to harmonise European Union legislation. German copyright had been extended to 70 years to allow for the disruption because of the Third Reich. I was on the Council of the Publishers' Association at the time and, if anything, we "corporate interests" were against the extension. Neither is there any movement by publishers or other intellectual property holders to extend copyright duration further. The claim that "authors from the mid-20th century will never go out of copyright" is ridiculous and would in fact be unworkable under the Berne Convention. The claim that the US "has since fallen into line" (I presume Bunting refers to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is similarly topsy-turvy. The DMCA contains many provisions that Europe could follow, rather than vice versa.

More serious is Bunting's underlying assumption that copyright stifles scholarship and book sales. As one of my students perceptively remarked: "Abolishing copyright is a bit like removing all the locks from your doors and windows and putting a sign in your window, saying: 'Dear burglars; help yourselves'." If copyright were abolished, then very quickly there would be no books at all, publishers would be out of business and authors would have no readers. Scholarship would shrivel and die. Copyright is that important.

Iain Stevenson
Director, publishing studies
City University

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