Copyright Term Extension: does a bad report cost more than a good report?

As Michael Geist writes, it is increasingly the practice of the US government to export its copyright policy though bi-lateral trade agreements. One example is the trade agreements being concluded with Australia right now that will require Australia to increase its copyright term to life plus 70.

The Allen Consulting Group has prepared what it apparently considers an economic analysis of the proposed Term Extension. The report was commissioned by the Motion Picture Association, among others. The report is embarrassingly poorly done.

I describe some errors in the extended entry below. But I hope for the Allen Consulting Group that this report is not representative of its work in general.

While the report describes a 1989 article by Posner/Landes as the “major theoretical contribution” to the analysis of term extensions, the most striking feature of the Allen report is its failure to address the arguments made by 17 economists, including 5 Nobel prize winners, in the brief submitted in Eldred and then published by AEI-Brookings. While that brief has been smartly criticized (though I believe erroneously, as I will describe in another post) by Liebowitz & Margolis, it certainly sets the framework for any economic analysis of term extension. (The Posner/Landes piece is about the length of terms generally, not term extension).

As Akerlof, et al., frame the analysis, the fundamental distinction in any consideration of term extension is the difference between extending existing terms, and extending terms prospectively. This distinction appears no where in the Allen Consulting Group report. Thus throughout the report, one is bounced around with arguments that are true for prospective extensions but false for retrospective extensions, and false for prospective extensions, but true for retrospective extensions. While the report cites the brief in a footnote and to accompany another cite, it nowhere addresses this core question that brief raises: Whether or not you believe extending terms in the future makes sense, what possible argument is there for extending terms for works that already exist?

In America, the answer to that argument was simple: Hollywood benefited. But what is the argument in Australia?

More frustrating is the pudginess of this argument that purports to be economics. There’s lots saying that both sides exaggerate their claims, but nothing to provide any actual evidence to evaluate whether any claim is exaggerated. And then, after acknowledging there is no useful actual evidence at all, the report concludes that on balance, the effect of the extension would be neutral, and so Australia should do it.

I’ve put some notes on the report here that you might find useful as you read through their argument. No doubt I’m not a neutral in this debate. But I only hope the Allen Consulting Group got alot of money for this report. It certainly won’t help its reputation as a firm that provides objective economic analysis.

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17 Responses to Copyright Term Extension: does a bad report cost more than a good report?

  1. Kallah says:

    Unfortunately. the limits of the PDF format render it impossible to read your commentary without making the original text impossible to read. This tends to make the commentary itself less than comprehensible without the necessary context.

  2. Chris Lake says:

    Not sure what you mean, Kallah. It’s totally clear on my system. Lessig’s comments are in the margin of the original text. You don’t read the comments straight through, they annotate the substance in the original report.


  3. Kallah says:

    I mean exactly what I said. The comments are visible only at 66% or smaller, which renders the text unreadable (it is sort of legible at 66%, but blurry and eyestrain-promoting). In fact, until I accidentally shrank the document, I was unaware that there were any comments at all and was looking for them at the end of the text. The document window was unscrollable.

  4. Chris Lake says:

    I see what you mean now, Kallah. I suggest that you have two options: either increase your screen resolution or print the document. I know either one or both of those options may not be available to you, but the problem is not a failing of the PDF format but a lack of dots per inch on your end. Hope you find this advice of some help.


  5. Kallah says:

    I fail completely to see how a)being unable to scroll to view all of the content and b)being unable to adapt to different resolutions are not failings of the document format. The format exists to serve users, not the other way around. It’s rather like assuming that it’s the restaurant patron’s responsibility to fix a problem with the meal, rather than the cook’s.

  6. Chris Lake says:

    To follow your analogy, the chef sent you a perfectly edible steak. You are, unfortunately, attempting to cut it with a spoon. PDF is indeed resolution-independent, otherwise you would not be able to see anything at all. The fact that you can see the text, but your PDF viewer doesn’t seem to suit your fancy, is not a failing of the format but your own tools. Belaboring your example, the rest of us in the dining room, using appropriate cutlery, find the meat divine.

    I politely suggest you get the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, assuming you are using Windows or Mac. If you are running Linux, you will find xpdf to be a capable viewer for your needs.

    Good luck!


  7. Steve says:

    No doubt, in another dozen years or so, Hollywood will go back to Congress (perhaps emboldened by the Eldred Court’s failure to put any limit in Constitutional term, “limited”), seeking to restrospectively amend the copyright term to “life of the author plus 90 years.”

  8. Ben Schiendelman says:

    As a professional software tester reading this, I just want to point out that Kallah has found actual usability issues in Acrobat, and the tool provided by Adobe is clearly at fault. I can easily reproduce the issue by lowering my screen resolution.
    Mr. Lake, making good software is primarily an effort in usability studies and good responses to problem feedback. To use your analogy, the restaurant should provide the tools to eat the meal properly – in this case, the diner has been given a spoon by the establishment.
    Kallah, The Adobe user forums are located here. (
    Hopefully, one of these people can suggest a solution which works with your system. I suspect, however, that your best bet is to find a way to submit to Adobe a “bug report”, or a list of the steps you took to reproduce the problem and an explanation of your issue. Someone on that site will probably have an e-mail address to send that information to.
    If you do send that information to Adobe, please advise me with any response you receive – I would be interested in following up.

  9. Hamish MacEwan says:

    In America, the answer to that argument was simple: Hollywood benefited. But what is the argument in Australia?

    The same.

    The Australians, with a growing number of productions in their country, “Finding Nemo,” “The Matrix” for example, may be persuaded that what is good for Hollywood is good for them.

    And finally, as Howard and Blair have demonstrated, they’ll fall into line with anything that’s good enough for America.

  10. ryan says:

    It’s terrible news, there is never any public consultation on such issues.

    Recently, there was “public” dicussion of this issue that consisted of a half day online forum discussion (broken into hour long segments of directed discussion), on an unpublicised website by the law firm drafting the copyright amendments.

    Governments don’t think long term, but that’s not news.

  11. Rainer says:

    Oh, Cthulhu kill me now! The dining metaphor is obviously limited. A better analogy would be (apologies if a non-PC hunting metaphor bothers you) blaming Fish and Wildlife for giving you a moose license when all you can bring to the hunt is a slingshot. Adobe clearly posts their software’s minimum system requirements. A 160×100 screen resolution doesn’t meet them.

    Addressing the issue at hand, I believe we are in a US-led downward spiral, and have been for some time. As long as Big Business can keep pulling the levers, the American guvmint will keep extending corporations’ rights over citizens’ rights. And they will keep pushing these Big Business ideas on the rest of us. (Yeah, what do I know; I’m not an American.) Here in Canada, our slide is typically a little slower, and sometimes (rarely) we even buck the US push. But, in the end, we usually succumb. Sometimes, we’re even a step ahead of the US.

  12. Wolfbone says:

    I first saw this report referenced on slashdot and described as ‘balanced’ in one of the posts. So I downloaded it to have a look and I must say I was appalled. The references in it to ‘research in the field of behavioural economics’ I took to be references to some stuff I read a while ago about what motivates creators to produce their work. It showed that financial rewards were the usually the least significant motivator in the best of a creator’s work and could even lead to reduced quality overall compared to more nebulous incentives such as peer respect. Sadly I couldn’t remember where I saw this research and I still haven’t been able to find it. Does anyone else know of this work?

  13. Ben Schiendelman says:

    640×480 reproduces the issue, and is well within the standards set by Adobe. Another issue would be that if the software detects that the screen resolution is too low to view the document, it should notify the user.

    Rainer, I fully agree with the second half of your comment. US voters are led to believe that what’s good for business is good for them. Payroll taxes versus income taxes and the debates regarding accurate figures tallying such are an excellent example.

  14. Rainer says:

    OK, agreed. If the problem is happening at 640 x 480 and Adobe lists that resolution as acceptable, they need to update their specs.

    I have never understood why “the common person” has such a habit (need?) to swallow the guvmint slant hook, line, and sinker. We are continually told by various alternate press associations, etc. how Big Business runs guvmint, yet we still follow along. I think a large part of it is that the alternate news sources merely preach to the converted. Maybe I do understand, but can’t bring myself to accept it.

    Back in the days the U.S. threw off the British yoke, it was hard for business to control the government. I think it was when poiticians began to make money in political careers, rather than it being a costly venture one entered because one believed in serving, that it all went downhill. I can’t be sure, but I would guess it is a phenomenon that start roughly in the mid to late 1800s.

    If anyone finds the report mentioned by Wolfbone, I’d love to see it.

  15. Luke Wenke says:

    This is the only critique of the report that I know of…

    Unfortunately the ACCC (according to a reply they sent me) isn’t concerned with intellectual property issues like this.

    Also, the independent government organisation, the Copyright Law Review Committee (CLRC), hasn’t been asked to do a study into copyright extension though they have done other investigations.

    So we’re left with reports that are funded practically entirely by groups who have a lot to gain from copyright extension…

    By the way, the section concerned with copyright extensions on existing works is section 3.4, which isn’t commented on in the pdf.

    Apparently due to the U.S. free-trade agreement which should be finalised in December, these copyright extensions will be forced onto us. I’ve been trying to contact politicians and newspapers about this and I’d encourage others to do the same…

    Luke Wenke.
    My email beings with iljwamh1234567890 and ends with (I’m trying to avoid spam by making it harder for software to find my email address)

  16. Miriam says:

    It seems to me that as we can’t rely upon the traditional news media to help the general population on this (and a lot of other topics) we need a concerted web/email-based campaign to raise its visibility. I didn’t even know about the looming copyright change till I read about it in the regular Project Gutenberg newsletter emails. It is awful that such a large-scale robbing of public culture can be done, and worse that it is being done on-the-sly.

    Please email friends and relatives about it. And don’t forget to contact your local blind, deaf, and spineless politician to tell them what you think. (Hmmm… blind, deaf and spineless — sounds like a jellyfish doesn’t it.)

    On the subject of Adobe’s pdf format: it is a file format made not for the electronic age but for people who never really made the transition from paper. It is virtually impossible to convert reliably into any other format so is a dead end for information. (Often the only way to comment on such a piece is to descend to commenting in the original pdf format.) A corporation which publishes a report in that format is so lost in the past that it is a given that they don’t understand the ramifications of the electronic age anyway.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m trying to forward to John Howard a copy of an email drawn up by someone concerned about this matter enough to encourage a mailing campaign.

    But I don’t know what email address to post to, and I’m certain that the default one mentioned on the website would probably be filtered or managed by underlings hence would not see the PM’s desk.

    I don’t think snail mail is the best solution, but might be worth a try. anyone have any suggestions? Tried various possible wranglings of john howard and, to no success yet.

    will keep trying. Perhaps people know of useful other Australian parliamentarians emails to try? If you do, don’t tell me, send them this message yourself, if you are concerned about this issue.


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