02 August 2011

Time for Nirvana's music catalog to enter the public domain?

The article below was passed along to me by a friend who seemed to think this was good news - and I guess it is, to a certain extent, but it also raises a lot of questions in my mind.

Drug Prices To Plunge As Patents Expire
The next 14 months will bring generic versions of seven of the world's 20 best-selling drugs, including the top two: cholesterol fighter Lipitor and blood thinner Plavix.

It's worth noting, I think, that pharmaceutical companies spend many millions of dollars on both years of research and on navigation of the FDA's approval maze for each drug they bring to market. Some of those drugs offer truly miraculous cures for debilitating illnesses. In exchange, US intellectual property laws grant them a maximum of twenty years of protection, some of which will tick by before the drug even gets to market.

For example, the patent protecting Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering drug, ran out in June, 2011. That drug was approved by the FDA in 1997 - just 14 years ago. By contrast, Nirvana's last album was released in 1993 - so how long until it hits the public domain, so that we can freely download it?

Some argue that drug pricing is just too high, and drug companies make plenty of money. That argument is tough to sustain, though. James Cameron's Titanic, released the same year as Lipitor, quite famously earned more than $1 billion, yet Cameron still retains all rights, and will pass those rights, and continued profits, to his heirs.

You can argue that copyright has been extended too far, or drug patents not far enough, but I don't think you can argue that the current system is rational.

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