How long does our work survive beyond our time among the living? It's not a question that the average person has to much consider, although given how the internet is bound to our current existence, it's fair to say that traces of us will live on for years to come, even if you have to hit up the Wayback Machine to find them. For creators, questions about legacy and immortality are usually reserved for thinking of the collective consciousness, while realizing that the day will come when the financial benefits will disappear and the work will enter the public domain.
Or will it? It's a question raised quite literally in a tweet from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization proposing the notion of eternal copyright in response to some initiative or another, posed in a video by one of its Goodwill Ambassadors, Jean-Michel Jarre. As framed in the tweet, Jarre brings up the idea in his video and UNESCO asks followers for their thoughts, which, as Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, is the standard device for those looking to introduce terrible or unpalatable ideas while avoiding blowback.
The idea is far enough out there that it would likely struggle to gain widespread support — the word "eternal" seems to evoke some discomfort in any context — but it's worth exploring what's being suggested, and what that might mean if adopted. The eternal copyright as suggested by Jarre wouldn't benefit the estate of the creator in perpetuity; his idea is an expiration date, after which point all of the fees would go to a fund supporting artists around the world. And setting aside all the questions about collecting and administering such a fund, wouldn't it be to the benefit of creators to have a library of public domain works to draw upon for inspiration and as a building block?
It would be easy to dismiss the idea as idle thoughts perhaps unwisely shared on social media, bad tweets and posts comprising perhaps two-thirds of all postings, but any arm of the United Nations would be necessarily deliberative and bureaucratic, so the post can't be chalked up to an intern with too much latitude. Far more likely, it's the considered position of a body that has a voice in how intellectual property laws may be shaped in the future, even if it is the individual nations determining their laws.
It's clear that copyright law, and IP law in general, requires changes to conform to present realities, but something like eternal copyright would hardly solve existing issues, and would create its own problems.