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US gov cries foul on MPAA piracy claims

A Mickey Mouse operation

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A Mickey Mouse operation

The GAO also took the BSA and MPAA to task for assuming that there's a one-to-one correspondence between piracy and lost sales. In contrast to that assumption, the GAO cited a study of US college students which discovered that "every five music downloads substitute [for] one legitimate purchase," that "some of the music that was downloaded would never have been purchased as an album," and that "downloading illegal music can have a positive effect on total consumer welfare."

To their credit, however - and unlike their industry couterparts - the GAO was quick to point out that "this experiment cannot be generalized; the data consist of a snapshot of undergraduate students’ responses, which is not representative of the general population."

On Wednesday, the Copyright Alliance, of which the MPAA is a founding member, issued a counter-argument to the GAO's finding entitled "Counterfeiting and Piracy Undermines the Incentive to Create," which blasts the GAO's effort as being "thin on substance" and contended that the GAO included "questionable comments."

"The GAO states up front that their review is mostly the result of interviews with a few 'experts,' the Copyright Alliance's reponse sniffed, "many of which were academics who have not been professional artists or creators or ever worked in a creative industry."

If the debate centers, as the Copyright Alliance's argument states, on what undermines the incentive for authors and artists to create, perhaps the next GAO study should focus on the expansion of copyright law in the US over the years.

When the first copyright law was enacted - the UK's Statute of Anne, which turned 300 years old last Saturday - copyright protection lasted 14 years, and if at the end of that period the authors were still alive, they were granted another 14 years, but no more.

In the US, copyright law was ensconced into the Constitution, which granted copyright protection "for limited Times to Authors and Inventors." In its first law based on that clause, the US Congress matched the 14-plus-14 terms of the Statute of Anne.

But copyright protection has ballooned since then to protect not authors, but rights holders by extending copyrights far beyond an author's death - to 28 years-plus-14 in 1831, 28-plus-28 in 1909, then 75 years or 50 years after an author's death in 1976, and finally in 1998 to the author's lifetime plus 70 years, or 120 years after authorship or 95 years after publication for what that act - officially titled the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, but also derided as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act - called works of "corporate authorship." Such as Mickey Mouse.

Perhaps Congress should task the GAO to investigate what "undermines the incentive to create" more detrimentally, piracy or absurdly long copyright terms that are designed not to protect authors, artists, and inventors, but to protect corporate entities. Perhaps that bill could be named, in US acronymic fashion, the Government Examination of Terms and Regulations Enforcing Artistic Legislation Act. ®

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