Saturday, December 06, 2008

My Corporate Law prof was supposed to give us a class on Copyright on the last day of class, but he didn't have time to do so. I was a bit disappointed, as I was really looking forward to that. He did talk a teensy bit about it, but only on specific cases.

It made me realize one thing, though. People blame many things on Copyright protection, either because the think it's too broad, lasts for too long, or is too repressive. Yet, I came to understand that although Copyright certainly does offer protection, and restrictions, it's certainly not the whole story.

First off, ideas are not copyrightable. I'd certainly like to go into a discussion on the difference between an idea and a copyrightable/patentable work, but that would require research and I won't have time for that until after my finals.

The first example we were given was that of TV shows. Take a show like Deal or No Deal, or Big Brother, for instance. What if you want to create your own show based on that concept? Would you need to pay royalty fees to the original creators of Deal or No Deal? And if not, why do the producers still do?

According to my prof, if you want to take the concept, you could probably do so without having to pay royalties. (Legally, that is. This being said, there isn't much precedent on the subject.) Why? Because it's an idea. It's a concept, and as such, is not copyrightable, nor patentable. Of course, if you want to use the name, you'd have to pay for that, since it's a trademark. But the idea itself is free, and public knowledge.

So why to the producers still have to buy the rights? Well, this has nothing to do with copyright. Or rather, very little. To air a show (in Canada, at any rate), the show needs to be insured. The insurance companies will refuse to cover the show if there is any risk of legal difficulties.

You have to understand, it's not because the original producers will most likely lose their case that it'll keep them from trying to sue. And once the procedures are started, it could be years before a judge gives a verdict. Count a good 10 years if it goes to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the show can't be aired. So really, better be on the safe side, and fork out some money.

So is it Copyright's fault? Hardly so. Why? Because ideas aren't protected by copyright. Just because people use the law abusively doesn't mean that the law is bad in itself. For instance, the law says that if you cause damages to someone else's by your fault, you are liable for these damages. Just because someone uses this principle to claim $50M for a pair of lost trousers doesn't mean that the law itself is abusive, merely that here are abusive people.

Therefore, it's not because the Copyright Act puts forward a set of principles, and people are trying to extend these principles in every possible way, with more or less success, that the Act is bad in itself.

No comments: