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The Perverse History of Copyright

In this short video, explainmaestro C.G.P Grey explores the history of copyright, using the only slightly less alarming headline Copyright: Forever Less One Day (there's also a transcript at that page).

Copyright is an important system; it underlies much of the commerce I do every day. And its current implementation is basically cuckoo bananas, due in large part to exquisite lobbying by well-connected corporate interests. If you have five minutes to learn a little history (and have a few chuckles at George Lucas's expense), check this out:

See also: Everything is a Remix.

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Big Questions
How Are Speed Limits Set?
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When driving down a road where speed limits are oppressively low, or high enough to let drivers get away with reckless behavior, it's easy to blame the government for getting it wrong. But you and your fellow drivers play a bigger a role in determining speed limits than you might think.

Before cities can come up with speed limit figures, they first need to look at how fast motorists drive down certain roads when there are no limitations. According to The Sacramento Bee, officials conduct speed surveys on two types of roads: arterial roads (typically four-lane highways) and collector streets (two-lane roads connecting residential areas to arterials). Once the data has been collected, they toss out the fastest 15 percent of drivers. The thinking is that this group is probably going faster than what's safe and isn't representative of the average driver. The sweet spot, according to the state, is the 85th percentile: Drivers in this group are thought to occupy the Goldilocks zone of safety and efficiency.

Officials use whatever speed falls in the 85th percentile to set limits for that street, but they do have some wiggle room. If the average speed is 33 mph, for example, they’d normally round up to 35 or down to 30 to reach the nearest 5-mph increment. Whether they decide to make the number higher or lower depends on other information they know about that area. If there’s a risky turn, they might decide to round down and keep drivers on the slow side.

A road’s crash rate also comes into play: If the number of collisions per million miles traveled for that stretch of road is higher than average, officials might lower the speed limit regardless of the 85th percentile rule. Roads that have a history of accidents might also warrant a special signal or sign to reinforce the new speed limit.

For other types of roads, setting speed limits is more of a cut-and-dry process. Streets that run through school zones, business districts, and residential areas are all assigned standard speed limits that are much lower than what drivers might hit if given free rein.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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The Strange Reason Why It's Illegal to Take Nighttime Photos of the Eiffel Tower
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The Eiffel Tower is one of the most-photographed landmarks on Earth, but if photographers aren't careful, snapping a picture of the Parisian tower at the wrong hour and sharing it in the wrong context could get them in legal trouble. As Condé Nast Traveler reports, the famous monument is partially protected under European copyright law.

In Europe, copyrights for structures like the Eiffel Tower expire 70 years after the creator's death. Gustave Eiffel died in 1923, which means the tower itself has been public domain since 1993. Tourists and professional photographers alike are free to publish and sell pictures of the tower taken during the day, but its copyright status gets a little more complicated after sundown.

The Eiffel Tower today is more than just the iron structure that was erected in the late 19th century: In 1985, it was outfitted with a nighttime lighting system consisting of hundreds of projectors, a beacon, and tens of thousands of light bulbs that twinkle every hour on the hour. The dazzling light show was designed by Pierre Bideau, and because the artist is alive, the copyright is still recognized and will remain so for at least several decades.

That being said, taking a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower after dark and sharing it on Instagram won't earn you a visit from Interpol. The law mainly applies to photographers taking pictures for commercial gain. To make sure any pictures you take of the illuminated tower fall within the law, you can contact the site's operating company to request publishing permission and pay for rights. Or you can wait until the sun comes up to snap as many perfectly legal images of the Parisian icon as you please.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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