Why copyright should never exceed an author’s lifespan.

Whilst reading the excellent book “Free Culture” by Lawrence Lessig, I came across a paragraph where he briefly mentioned a possible reason as to why copyright would need to exceed the lifespan of an author. The reason that was mentioned (not put in stone, Lessig did not say it was a necessity, but only mentioned it in passing) was to give an income to the widow of an artist.

This is however an argument that holds no water at all. Copyright is a provision that a society gives to an author to ensure they can have an income, this means royalties stemming from copyright should be seen as a paycheck given by society to the author. If copyright is a paycheck given by society however, then copyright should end when a person dies, since I don’t believe any widow gets a paycheck from the employer of her husband when her husband dies. Pensions were designed to give people who cannot work due to their age still some form of income and it is a pension that the widow should receive as a gift from society, not copyright. Furthermore, if the widow does not want to live off of a pension alone, then, like any other person that works for his or her money, it is the artist itself that should create savings, created out of royalties or other work, to pass on to his offspring and/or widow when he passes away. It is not society (i.e. the employer of the artist) that should carry the burden of the siblings and spouses of these persons after his life, but the artist himself. Exactly as any other person.

There is simply no reason to differentiate between artists and other persons in this case, because the only discrepancy that existed between the income of regular persons and artists was solved by introducing the copyright for this person.

Likewise, there is no reason that when a person receives pension from society, he would still need to receive royalties from works and in this way getting paid double by society. This is the reason why copyright should also be limited in time, shorter than the average lifespan of an author. We can consider a renewal term however, which though should have a negative impact on the pension a person can receive as to make sure only works that will still have an economic value get a renewal of copyright. The same could hold for widows of artists.

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