On Teleread, David Rothman also weighs in.
via TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home, May 20, 2007:
"Conservative,” of course, isn't the word to describe Helprin's radical wishes. Never mind the American tradition of limited copyright terms as a way to promote the arts and the rest. Halperin acknowledges certain social benefits from this rather Jeffersonian philosophy, but in the end seems to regard literature as like real estate—something that the proprietors should be able to own forever. Odd. How many houses are built partly with timber from the one next door (a metaphor that if not used before, should have been)? Even the headline of the Helprin piece is a touch misleading: "A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?" You don't copyright ideas per se—you copyright the expression of them, and in fact, Helprin's own essay notes: "Mozart and Neil Diamond may have begun with the same idea, but that a work of art is more than an idea is confirmed by the difference between the 'Soave sia il vento' and 'Kentucky Woman.'" [read on...]
more via said wiki: http://wiki.lessig.org/index.php/Against_perpetual_copyright
Against perpetual copyright
In a New York Times op-ed article on May 20, 2007 ("A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?"), Mark Helprin suggests that copyrights, like physical property rights, should last forever. But in fact, copyrights and physical property rights are vastly different domains, both inherently and in their effects on society. A closer look at the consequences of perpetual copyright shows Helprin's suggestion to be based on faulty arguments.
At the core of Helprin's article is the idea that physical and intellectual property are morally equivalent — that revoking the rights enjoyed by copyright owners after a limited (albeit long) term is the same as revoking the rights enjoyed by owners of physical property. Physical property, such as real estate, is a finite resource that operates as a zero-sum game. And the laws regarding physical property treat it as such. Intellectual works are abstract concepts and do not naturally operate as zero-sum games. Copyright law converts a work into a kind of zero-sum game so that the author can make money selling his work, but once that legal construction expires, the work returns to its natural state of a non-zero-sum game.
The framers did not believe that copyright was an intrinsic right, but they recognized that if authors could not recoup the cost of their labors, they would create fewer works. They considered copyright to be a government-created incentive to promote the progress of Science and the Useful Arts. After authors have been given sufficient time to extract compensation for their labors, the monopoly to the work is ended, and the work may be reabsorbed into the culture at large, be remixed into new works, and forever benefit the public: hence the name "Public Domain".
But why are intellectual and physical property different? How are the differences between laws related to the differences between domains? Would it really be so bad for society if they were treated the same way? This article explores the answers. [...]