Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dreams of Perpetual Copyright

Dear Rich: What do you dream about? We received this question many months ago and disregarded it since the Dear Rich staff does not address topics that are unrelated to intellectual property. But then, last night we had a dream and felt that it was time to respond. In our dream, we were at a hearing of some sort, it seemed like it could have been in court or maybe a less formal setting (or maybe it switched back and forth). A man with a mustache who looked a lot like Mr. Brewer -- our Dutch neighbor on Long Island who flew for KLM and eventually returned to the Netherlands because he didn't like the direction the U.S. was heading --  was asking about copyright. Apparently, at the hearing we had proposed a staggered system of copyright protection, some types of works getting a shorter term than others depending on the class of works and other factors. (We're not clear on the details but looking back on it, the idea seems subjective and ultimately unworkable.) We must have also proposed that some works achieve perpetual copyright because the Mr. Brewer person asked, "What's an example of a work that would get perpetual protection?" and we responded, "Don't Fear the Reaper." 
Then We Woke Up
The proposal in our dream was unconstitutional. U.S. Copyright (and patents) are premised on protection that is for "limited times," so perpetual copyright would offend our Founding Fathers (not to mention certain copyright gadflies). Other countries have tinkered with the concept though none have embraced it. What we're more interested in is why -- of all the prize winning artwork and music and literature -- our dream counterparts chose Blue Oyster Cult's (sorry, we can't find the umlaut key) 1976 single, Don't Fear the Reaper? (We're talking about the Sandy Pearlman production -- not the live versions). In any case, whether it was the lyrics, the song's tone, the uber-perfect mix, or the ability of the song to age with its audience, it's nice to know that some copyrighted art has a place in the real world and in dreams. 

PS. Thanks to Robert C. re: locating the ümlaüt key.