Wednesday, October 09, 2002 Technology | Riding along with the Internet Bookmobile

Angered by a law that extends copyright terms for 20 years, a crusader named Brewster Kahle wants to use the Internet to make books available to everyone.

In a print-on-demand world, where the cost of creating a book runs about $1 and the capital costs run under $10K, libraries don't lend books, they give them away.

If the Supreme Court upholds Sonny Bono, it will leave the door open for Congress to perpetually extend copyright. If that happens, it is reasonable to assume that no more works will ever enter the public domain. Even if the court finds against the law, the decision wouldn't change the fundamental fact that new works automatically enter this super-lengthy copyright protection.

Mickey Mouse vs. The People

The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act harms the public by retroactively taking information from the public domain and putting it back under the control of copyright holders. Lawrence Lessig, then a law professor at Harvard, heard their call and took on the case pro bono. The previous law, passed in 1978, protected an author's work for 50 years after an author died, while works for hire -- those created for a corporation, like Mickey Mouse -- were protected for 75 years. The Bono Act extended both categories by two decades.

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