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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Law - "No books for you: U.S. starves public domain for another year"

A really discouraging story from Jeff John Roberts of GigaOm begins:

A new year means a new batch of copyrights expire, and works like Narnia and The Bell Jar become as free to use as Charles Dickens or Shakespeare. Unless you happen to live in the United States, that is.

As Duke University notes in its mournful annual report, no books will enter the public domain this year, or next year, or the year after that. This situation is the result of Congress’s decision to add another 20 years of protection for long dead authors, which means that no new works will become public until 2019.

As a related Duke article points out, famous 1957 titles like On the Road, Atlas Shrugged and The Cat in the Hat would have entered the public domain if the US had retained its pre-1978 copyright system, which granted protection for up to 56 years. Canada, meanwhile, has stuck with a “life of the author plus 50 years” rule, which means the public there — starting January 1 — can print or perform works by CS Lewis and Sylvia Plath (both died in 1963)

So why has the public domain dried up in the United States? The technical answer is a 1998 law that increased copyright terms to 95 years or more for works published after 1923 (you can get specifics from this excellent chart). But the more subtle answer is that the US government succumbed to lobbying efforts by Walt Disney and other powerful content owners that demanded ever-longer monopolies for their intellectual property.

The result is a copyright system that’s impossible to defend on economic or policy grounds.

Duke Law's Center for the Public Domain notes that yesterday, January 1st, was Public Domain Day.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 2, 2014 01:34 PM
Posted to General Law Related