From Publishers Weekly:
Writing is a strange career. You spend countless hours pouring your soul on the page for no promise of pay, no benefits, and no guarantee anyone will even publish you. Then you go online and find out people think you have it too damn good. That was the recent situation when—as part of the controversy over the Dr. Seuss estate’s decision to cease publication of six largely obscure titles with offensive content—former Vox writer Matthew Yglesias tweeted that “books that are 30 years old should be in the public domain.”
Many agreed with Yglesias and wanted to go further. The top reply suggested “even 15 or 20” years would be sufficient, while others said maybe that was too much. After all, they argued, it’s not like you pay dentists or bakers for work they did years ago!
The debate was a perfect internet storm, in that it made everyone mad, was filled with bad faith arguments, and was entirely pointless. Copyright is not about to drop to 30 years, much less five. Thanks to the 1886 Berne Convention and the author advocacy of Victor Hugo, the global standard is a minimum of life plus 50. (Contrary to popular belief, this standard was set long before Mickey Mouse, though Disney did successfully lobby for an extension in the ’90s.) Still, the kerfuffle highlighted some common misunderstandings about both how authors’ careers and copyright work.
Being a novelist or poet is not like being a baker, dentist, lawyer, or any job that pays wages for services rendered. We give up wages and security in order to get copyright: the right to control the art we create and—if we are very lucky—parlay that intellectual property into some (typically modest amount of) money.
If we must think in business terms, being an author is like being an entrepreneur. Writers have ideas and work for themselves to make those ideas a reality. We build a brand. We do countless hours of unpaid work in the hopes that one day, down the road, it will pay off… or at least get us on a few panels at AWP. It doesn’t work out for most of us, as internet commentators were happy to point out—but that’s true of many industries. The vast majority of restaurants fail within a few years, yet no one claims anyone should be able to walk into a successful restaurant and use the kitchen for free.
When it does work out, it takes time—lots of time: years to write, years to establish a readership, and often years to catch a lucky break. Success tends to come late for authors. If you don’t believe me, go turn on Netflix and watch its recent hits Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit, based on decades-old novels by Julia Quinn and the late Walter Tevis, respectively.
Let’s say an author doesn’t ever succeed and spends their life crying over their MacBook. Well, so what? Why shouldn’t they still control their creations? This is what copyright is really about: who gets control. It’s a question that goes beyond money.
Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly
PG doesn’t agree with everything in the OP.
However, for argument’s sake, he didn’t see anything anything in the OP that justified copyright extending for 50-70 or more years after the author dies.
As a refresher for visitors from the US, in this country copyright is based upon what is generally referred to as the Patent and Copyright Clause of the US Constitution:
[The Congress shall have power] “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”Article I Section 8 | Clause 8
PG notes the “limited times” language in the clause.
Yes, 2,000 years is a “limited time” in that it is less than 10,000 years, but PG suggests that’s not what the authors of the language were thinking about.
In 1790, the First Congress, which included more than a few of those who had approved the Constitution, passed The Copyright Act of 1790, An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books to the Authors and Proprietors of Such Copies.
The Copyright Act of 1790 granted American authors the right to print, re-print, or publish their work for a period of 14 years and to renew for another fourteen.
Major revisions of the act were passed in in 1831, 1870, 1909, and 1976.
The 1976 revision was the first time that the life of the author became a method of measuring the length of the copyright term. The 1909 revision’s term was of protection to 28 years with a possible renewal of 28 more years.