On a grey misty day in November 2028, the clock in Winston's room struck fourteen. He'd hacked the clock's mechanism to make his point. Old-fashioned clockwork was the only thing left that could still be hacked.
"Fourteen chimes," he declaimed into his diary, "represents the fourteen years that copyright originally lasted. But today is the centenary of Disney's Steamboat Willie. One hundred years after its premiere, it's still locked up. Copyright keeps getting extended, and enforcement is ever more intrusive."
This short and rather strange piece is a mash-up of Disney and Nineteen Eighty-Four. I came up with the idea toward the end of a long hike along the Pennine Way, when the story's imagery started popping into my head. The subject of copyright is of perennial interest to writers. As creators, we don't want other people to pirate our work without compensation. Yet is there such a thing as too much protection? The copyright term (the length of time that a work is protected by copyright before passing into the public domain) has frequently been lengthened and is now far longer than its original period. This inhibits cultural expression by preventing the creative re-use of earlier work. Many people believe that the current copyright term is far too long and mainly benefits parasitical corporations squatting upon profitable franchises whose creators may have long since died.
A common mode of science fiction is to extrapolate a current trend into the future. Historically, copyright terms have kept expanding. What if that trend continued? In my story, I imagined Disney as the corporation whose copyrights extended indefinitely. But copyright is only effective insofar as it is enforced. How might it be enforced in future? The paradigm of oppressive enforcement is a dystopia; hence my evocation of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The entire story was basically conceived as an excuse to write this line: "I've seen the future, and it's a white glove slapping a human face — forever."