Der folgende Artikel ist für bessere internationale Diskussion auf Englisch verfasst.

An important question in the discussion about the new copyright, is the actual duration. Pirate Parties all over the world fight for its drastic reduction. While this goal is still desirable, there is a particular form of »collateral damage«. The licensing of free content, especially free software, often includes a so called »copyleft clause«, which implies that derivative works have to be published under the same license. This copyleft clause expires with the copyright which again especially implies a conflict with the open source philosophy. This article shows an actual copyright duration model which can solve this problem.

The duration of copyright is way too long. This is what all pirate parties agree about. The actual duration is still widely discussed. The politic platform of the German pirate party so far only implies the reduction of copyright duration to far less than in the TRIPS treaty. Most of the members agree that this means a decoupling of copyright duration from the lifetime of the author. The notion of copyright is to create a possibility for the author to make an economic profit with his work. There is no reason why a young author should have a longer time to do so than an old one. The coupling of copyright duration to the authors lifespan is only a relic of the outdated notion of »intelectual property« (sic!).

But how long should the actual duration really be? While speaking with pirates from different countries and even while speaking with different German pirates, durations from 3 to 50 years where mentioned. The mass of answers however was located from 5 to 15 years. This discussion was influenced by the appearance of Richard M. Stallman on the mailing list of the international pirate parties. I had the chance to speak with him on a protest march in Munich and I will now try to summarize the problems of the free software movement with our policies on short copyright duration.

Copyright and Copyleft

The licensing of free content – especially free software which I want to focus on from here on – often includes a so called »copyleft clause«, which implies that derivative works have to be published under the same license. The goal of this clause is to ensure that free software or parts of it are not used in proprietary software. A part of free software is the open source philosophy, which states that the source code of the software has to be freely available for everyone. That way everyone can contribute to make new and/or better software out of the existing. An important part of the philosophy is that these advancements in the free software also have to bee free. So the notion of the copyleft clause is to ensure that proprietary software cannot be made out of free software.

The problem now is, that the copyleft clause expires with the copyright, i.e. everyone can include the freely available source code into his software once the copyright expires. But even if the right to freely copy the resulting software package is given by law, the source code to this software does not have to be freely available anymore. So when the copyright expires after five years, proprietary software can use the code of free software without publishing its own code.

Stepwise Copyright Duration

One attempt to solve the problem is to establish different copyright durations for different types of software. The basic notion is, that an author publishing his work under a license granting more rights than »all rights reserved«, gets more copyright duration for his work, to have longer time make profit with it. Or applied the other way round to be more understandable for pirates, a free license should be the standard, if someone wants a more restrictive license he has to accept shorter durations. For specifing these granted rights the copyright holder issues a general license for the whole public.

We will now see an actual implication of this model. Let’s say the basic copyright duration for »all rights reserved« (Level 0) is 8 years. The following rights granted in the general licensing[1] expand the copyright duration:

  • Granting the free non-commercial use and copying of the work
  • Granting the free commercial use and copying of the work
  • Granting the free right to make derivative works
  • Publishing the sources to the work

Each of these bullet points increases the level of copyright duration by one. Copyleft can be included in any of these levels but would not make sense without the right to make derivative works. The actual duration as well as a licensing example is given in following table.

Stepwise copyright, other demands of the pirate party platform and natural restrictions

Some might argue, that this form of stepwise copyright duration breaks with current pirate party platforms, since we already demand the right for free non-commercial copying. Furthermore some aspects are good for software, but hardly applicable to other forms of work, like publishing the sources of a painting.

For the first aspect it has to be made clear, that the level thresholds can not only be passed by licensing, but also by legal or natural restrictions. After the free non-commercial copy becomes law, all works automatically get to level one. If the published work already equals the source, for example plain ASCII Test, there also can be no level zero works.

Forms of work, where one of the thresholds is not applicable cannot get to the corresponding levels. This might sound harsh at first, but these forms of works normally profit from the natural restrictions. One might not be able to publish the source code of a painting but nobody can make an exact copy of it, too.

Summary and conclusion

Stepwise copyright duration serves two purposes. The first one is to break with the notionof »intellectual property« and applying the actual granted rights to the duration. Thesecond one is to preserve copyleft clauses, since free content is always licensed with a wide range of granted rights and benefits from long copyright duration. In the authors opinion this could be a great step in the development of the pirate party politics.

[1] roughly drawn like in the GPL and the Creative Commons license models