Free Knight Rider!

eLABorations: How a talking Trans-Am could be a vehicle for challenging content restrictions

A while back, in a column advocating the end of broadcast television, I bemoaned the absence of "Knight Rider" on television—broadcast, cable, satellite or otherwise—but wrote that the absence of David Hasselhoffs epic adventure show would have to remain fodder for some future column.

This is that column.

"Knight Rider" isnt on TV right now—at least, not that Ive been able to find—because, I suppose, networks and stations dont believe that enough of an audience exists for the show. That may or may not be the case, but what good does the show do sitting on a shelf somewhere?

Vast stores of intellectual property sit on such shelves, languishing because content owners whore unconvinced of the profit potential of their holdings remain unwilling to loosen their grip.

Whats really troubling, however, is that Congress has relentlessly extended, retroactively, the length of time that content owners may retain this control.

The last such extension—a generous 20 years in length—came in 1998, when Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, which challenges the 1998 extension on the grounds that the Constitution provides for a "limited" term of copyright protection, and that Congress continuous term extension scheme (theyve done it 11 times in the last 40 years) allows for no such limit.

The original length of copyright was 14 years, with a renewal option for another 14 years. By that measure, "Knight Rider" would still be under protection, anyway, and Im not going to hold my breath waiting for a return to 28-year copyright terms. Instead, maybe I can hope for some common sense among the owners of old movies and TV shows.

Heres how it might work for "Knight Rider": Why not encourage fans whove taped the exploits of Michael, KITT and the rest of the gang at the Foundation for Law and Government to digitize those episodes and offer them for download on the Net and in peer-to-peer networks?

Maybe the move would awaken enough interest to get the series back on the air somewhere, and generate syndication profits.

That could lead to enough demand to justify a DVD series release, for more profit. Then, maybe wed see a "Knight Rider" movie. Hasselhoffs probably up to the task of reprising his role, but he could even do with a brief cameo as Michael and KITTs benefactor, and die right at the start, like Marlon Brando in "Superman."

And then, some time near the 22nd century, when the copyright has run out and the characters and concept of "Knight Rider" are in the public domain, maybe nothing happens. But maybe people whove been unwilling or unable to pay the owners of the show for their intellectual property will take up the "Knight Rider" IP and create new film and TV shows, or Michael Knight signature Trans-Ams or whatever.

OK, maybe none of this will happen, no matter what the owners of "Knight Rider" choose to do, but the point is that theres no way to find out without opening things up a bit.

Im not calling for the end of copyright, but its worth pointing out the value that openness of information offers to all of us—content creators, owners and consumers alike.

Tell me what you think about copyright and the Eldred v. Ashcroft case at