What could have been entering the public domain this month?

by Walter Olson on January 11, 2011

If not for the copyright extension bill that became effective in 1978, a wealth of significant work created in 1954 would have entered the public domain this January 1. [Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain]

{ 8 comments }

1 J.T. Wenting 01.11.11 at 10:06 am

one-sided rant. A lot of stuff might never have been created had the author not been able to expect protection of his intellectual property rights, and thus potential income.

2 GregS 01.11.11 at 10:24 am

Except that all the works cited in that article WERE created before the copyright extension occurred, so all the creators thereof obviously did not need the incentive of an extension of copyright past 2010 to create them. And I find it difficult to imagine any author deciding to not write a book because he would get “only” 56 years of copyright protection for it.

3 Mark Biggar 01.11.11 at 10:33 am

Wenting — totally irrelevant. Creators in 1954 had no way of knowing that Congress would extend the copyright coverage limits in 1978, but they created all that stuff anyway, Although as Congress has done it a few time already (mostly driven by Disney lobbying, who doesn’t want Mickey to ever go out of copyright), some creators may now assume congress will keep on doing that. Besides most creators would create anyway, monetary consideration is usually fairly low on their list of reasons to create.

4 Chris 01.11.11 at 12:01 pm

@ Mark Biggar. I doubt that the schlub doing the copyeditting or the receptionist answering the phone, or the guy advancing the author money while he writes the book are as unconcerned with monetary consideration that you assume the author is.

5 Bill Alexander 01.11.11 at 1:07 pm

Chris, I doubt the receptionist or the guy advancing money get any royalties after 20 years.

6 JWB 01.11.11 at 2:57 pm

It’s a bit gratuitous to throw in works in foreign languages whose 1954 first publication date was outside the U.S. (You would have to wait another decade or more before the first English translation of Histoire d’O became public domain under the old rules, and I forget what the old rules were as to when you would have been free to make your own unlicensed translation of the French original other than that I believe they were potentially complicated.) Changing the rules in the ’76 Act (in general, if not necessarily as to all details regarding pre-existing works) was perhaps useful on net because it got us into compliance with the Berne Convention and the practice of other countries, with the usual tension between the benefits of getting a uniform rule and the benefits of having an optimal rule. More recent term extensions may be harder to justify.

7 Don 01.11.11 at 6:40 pm

A great many of the creators of these pre-1954 works are already dead. People don’t write books, create fine art, produce movies on the hope that the income from the book, movie, art, song will provide enough income to keep their grandkids from working.

The Copyright extensions are all about providing future income to Corporations in the media industry.

8 starralex76 01.12.11 at 3:17 am

I forget what the old rules were as to when you would have been free to make your own unlicensed translation of the French original other than that I believe they were potentially complicated. And I find it so difficult to imagine any author deciding to not write a books ;)

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