Exploitation obligation for authors

Just me brainstorming.

Authors should be obliged to exploit their works. When they don’t do that for a set period of time—ten years tops sounds reasonable—their copyrights should be transferred to an entity that will exploit it for them. Authors of works that are only fixed in rapidly decaying media, such as anything digital (where not only the physical medium but also and especially the software environment deteriorate) should be obliged to keep their works ‘executable,’ as IT types call it. It should be possible in ten years time to still disseminate the digital works. Publishers will have the obligation to keep digital works accessible for at least the duration of copyright. Failure to do so should result in huge fines that reflect not only the damage to buyers, but also to society as a whole.

Here’s the problem set. Many works linger unexploited. Copyright law says nobody can touch these works, even though they have been injected into the public consciousness at some point in time, and have shaped public discourse. It should be possible to disseminate these works more easily than is currently possible. It is estimated that so-called orphan works form between 75 and 90 % of all works in most jurisdictions.

Current economic theory, especially a very little (and badly) understood theory called The Long Tail, holds that if all works are made readily accessible, all works will be consumed. Popular works, which typically have a monopoly on shelf space, will each still be consumed much, much more often than individual unpopular works made accessible, but since unpopular works outnumber popular works by quite a large degree, the consumption of all works should about double. This is good for everyone.

This should be written into law and the law should be applied retroactively.

What do you think? What would the objections against such a law be? Are there advantages I missed? Am I overestimating the size of the problem space? Perhaps publishers will wise up, and will have made their entire back catalog accessible in ten years, and we’ll all be laughing at my worries.

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