link to the story: HP Lovecraft’s “Dagon”
when copyright law was first established in the United States by the copyright act of 1790, the term was 14 years, and if the author was still living, it could be renewed for another 14 years. then in 1831 Noah Webster argued for an extension to 28 years originally, and then renewable for another 14 if the author was still living. the copyright act of 1909 extended the renewal term from 14 to 28 years. and on it goes until the sonny bono act of 1998, the most recent copyright update, which grants a copyright for the life of the author, then another 70 years.
in the United States the right of congress to establish copyright laws is explicitly granted by the constitution. and as mentioned above, they got right to it in 1790. it was originally understood that copyright was instituted for the benefit of the public, not the copyright holder, to encourage works to be published, similar to the motivation of patents, which was to expose new methods of production to the market, rather than exploiting them in secret. that way the rest of the economy could benefit from their innovations.
current copyright terms are intended to benefit the copyright holder and not the public. this is the prerogative of congress in our system. it is my opinion that the information landscape has changed so much, that the original motivations should be revisited.
the books, pamphlets, recordings, the physical artifacts of intellectual work are themselves rivalrous goods, goods which can only be consumed by one agent at a time. if I have the book, you cannot also have the same book.
in contrast, intellectual property is a non-rivalrous good, if I hear a poem and memorize it, this does not prevent you from hearing the same poem and memorizing it. the information content can be copied with a small marginal cost, and these copies don’t impact anyone else’s ability to use the intellectual property.
congress originally determined that there wasn’t enough motivation for authors to create new intellectual works, so they wrote copyright laws to create a rivalry where previously there was none. an artificial scarcity in order to encourage cultural production in a new and mostly empty country, where the quickest way to get a message to someone was by courier, daily newspapers were the dominant intellectual mode, and books were becoming more common but still relatively expensive. there was a motivation to encourage a common culture among the 13 colonies, something independent of England, for the purpose of establishing its own lifeways around intellectual production, academia, etc.
intellectual property has escaped earth and landed in the realm of platonic forms, cyberspace, the supersensorium, the noosphere. the cost to reproduce intellectual works is nearly zero, when taken as a multiple of the marginal cost to store a kilobyte of information.
to the extent that american works have entered the public domain, it is worth amplifying those of value, since it costs so little to do so. to that end, I link you to my copy of the text of HP Lovecraft’s “Dagon”, a work which was published in 1919, which places it in the public domain.
I get a lot out of the story. it is framed as a tale told by a man who is trying to overcome a horrible event in his past. the story shifts one layer deeper when we enter the retelling of his discovery of a vast expanse of muck which he found himself stranded on in the middle of the pacific ocean. something which was not previously above water. the character is trapped in this strange place, which is terrifying to him, since it is obvious that it could just as easily slide back under the water as it popped up, and still more that some intelligence was present in the distant past, which created some artifacts in this place.
as a complex of impressions, the story evokes a sense of the vastness of the universe, the depth of reality outside the human experience of it. my experience of the “oceanic” feel of things is tightly associated with the Freudian meaning of the word, but also the ocean as Neptune the Mystic.