a social experiment on copyright

by benjamin hollon on october 22, 2022

I had an idea, so I tried it out. Sometimes I have trouble keeping myself from doing that. But this one seemed pretty fun, it intrigued me, and I thought there might be fascinating results behind it.

It was definitely fun, and the results are intriguing, though I don’t have an explanation behind them.

I just thought I’d put the facts out there.

what happened

Back when I first joined Fosstodon, I ran a poll on how long people thought copyright terms should be. It got 35 responses. Here are the results:

Looking back at that poll, I got curious: what would happen if I ran the exact same poll again, word for word, character for character? Well, I’ll let the results speak for themselves:

Fascinating. At least I think so.

what changed

For one, I should address the biggest change: my audience. When I first ran this poll, I did not have any significant following. Practically everyone who responded did so because they ran into the poll naturally, not because they’ve been following me and have already been hearing my own views on copyright and other issues. With the new poll, a significant number of respondents are my followers and may potentially have biased by what I’ve posted in the past and by the sort of followers I tend to attract.

But then, that was kind of the point of the experiment. If it were the exact same respondents, (1) someone would probably notice the experiment and (2) the only changes would be if people have changed their mind since the first poll. In scientific terms, my audience was the independent variable I changed, while I tried to make everything else constant between the two experiments.

As for the actual results, people overall tended to be less extreme in their views. Fewer people thought the current US law is ideal, and fewer people thought that the extreme “15 years or less” was correct.

What’s interesting to me is that the percentages for each half didn’t change at all. 35% of respondents thought copyright should last at least as long as the author’s life in both polls. Again, in both polls, 65% thought copyright should last 50 years or less.

I’d like to think this means that we’ve grown more willing to compromise. Realistically, since in this poll the respondents reflect my audience which reflects on me, it likely means I’ve personally become more likely to compromise.

I hadn’t thought I had, but looking back I do understand the issue a little better and sympathize better with people who have different views than me. I think that’s good.

I’m glad I did this.


Maybe I’ll do this again. The date, of course, would need to be proper so that the three polls would be evenly spread out over time for the best results.

See you all on July 11, 2023, maybe.

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