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Old 07-09-2009, 11:15 AM   #1
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Copyright of posthumous works

Does anyone have a summary of how copyright works for posthumous... umm.. works? I mean, when do they enter public domain?

In the US I guess it's easy, because it's all referred to the date of publication, regardless of when the author died. But how about Europe and Canada?
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Old 07-09-2009, 12:37 PM   #2
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This flowchart shows how copyright works in the UK:
http://www.museumscopyright.org.uk/private.pdf
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Old 07-09-2009, 05:53 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Jellby View Post
In the US I guess it's easy, because it's all referred to the date of publication, regardless of when the author died. But how about Europe and Canada?
Europe: lifetime + 70 years
Canada: lifetime + 50 years

US: Complicated. See http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/res...blicdomain.cfm for details, but roughly:

Published 1922 and earlier: Public Domain
Published 1923-1963 inclusive: copyright for 95 years unless not renewed in the 28th year
Published 1964-1977 inclusive: copyright for 95 years
Published 1978-: copyright for lifetime + 70 years

Nothing new will enter the US Public domain until 2019
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Old 07-09-2009, 06:07 PM   #4
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Nothing new will enter the US Public domain until 2019
Expect an interesting pack of legal maneuvers from Disney sometime around 2016, trying to change that.
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Old 07-10-2009, 02:50 AM   #5
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To answer the original poster's question, in the UK at least, a posthumous work has copyright protection for 50 years from the end of the year of its initial publication. The date of the author's death is not relevent in this circumstance. Eg, if I were to discover a previously-unknown letter written by, say, Charles Dickens, and publish it today, it would enter the public domain on 1st Jan 2060.
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Old 07-10-2009, 02:54 AM   #6
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Nothing new will enter the US Public domain until 2019
Not entirely true, Paul. Lots of new works are constantly entering the US public domain - eg pretty much anything published by the US government. I think you mean that nothing that is currently under copyright protection will enter the public domain until 2019.
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Old 07-10-2009, 04:34 AM   #7
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Since you caught my error (US Government works), I feel it only fair to catch yours.

The 50 year rule was changed in the 1988 copyright act. From 1 August 1989, unpublished works only have copyright for lifetime+70 years. But there is a fifty year transition period. For unpublished works by authors who died before 1969, the copyright expires at the end of 2039. There's going to be a lot of stuff, published and unpublished, coming out of copyright in the UK on 1st Jan 2040. (Including your hypothetical letter by Charles Dickens.)

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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
To answer the original poster's question, in the UK at least, a posthumous work has copyright protection for 50 years from the end of the year of its initial publication. The date of the author's death is not relevent in this circumstance. Eg, if I were to discover a previously-unknown letter written by, say, Charles Dickens, and publish it today, it would enter the public domain on 1st Jan 2060.
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Old 07-10-2009, 05:06 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
To answer the original poster's question, in the UK at least, a posthumous work has copyright protection for 50 years from the end of the year of its initial publication. The date of the author's death is not relevent in this circumstance.
So, a work published one year after the author's death would be public domain 50 years afterwards, even though the author died less than 70 years before?

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Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
unpublished works only have copyright for lifetime+70 years. But there is a fifty year transition period.
So, a work published 71 years after the author's death would be instantly public domain?

I think it would be more logical to have a combination of both rules. Does anyone know how it is in Canada or the rest of the European Union?

P.S. When I said it was "easy" in the US, I meant that posthumous works were treated just the same as regular lifetime works. I am aware it is actually far from "easy"
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Old 07-10-2009, 05:24 AM   #9
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You're absolutely right, Paul; I'd missed that change in the 1988 Copyright Act. Thank you for putting me right!

The current situation is explained here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyrig...sthumous_Works
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Old 07-10-2009, 05:32 AM   #10
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So, a work published one year after the author's death would be public domain 50 years afterwards, even though the author died less than 70 years before?
For works published posthumously before 1989, where the author had been dead for 50 years or more at the time of publication, then yes, that is the case.

As Sparrow has already posted, this diagram:

http://www.museumscopyright.org.uk/private.pdf

very neatly summarises the current situation.

Last edited by HarryT; 07-10-2009 at 05:42 AM.
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Old 07-10-2009, 06:01 AM   #11
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It's very complicated taking about copyright lengths in hypothetical cases unless you specify very clearly when the hypothetical case takes place.

A work published today, one year after an author dies will have 69 years copyright.

Before the 1988 act, copyright in the UK was only lifetime+50 anyway, so the 50 years after publication was always longer.

A work published today, 71 years after the author's death won't come out of copyright until 2040.

a work published in 2040, 71 years after the author's death will be instantly in the public domain - indeed, an unpublished work 71 years after the author's death will be in the public domain. Unless, of course, the law is changed in the next 31 years!

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Originally Posted by Jellby View Post
I think it would be more logical to have a combination of both rules. Does anyone know how it is in Canada or the rest of the European Union?
PLEASE don't suggest extending copyright any more! And since "publication" now is getting harder to pin down, it seems a less useful way of deciding when something should be covered by copyright.
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Old 07-10-2009, 06:15 AM   #12
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Hmm... it turns out I was wrong.

The European Union rules are pretty much the same as the UK rules, as they're all based on the same EU directive, implemented by each nation's particular copyright laws.

Article 4 of the current EU directive says:

Article 4
Protection of previously unpublished works
Any person who, after the expiry of copyright protection, for the first time lawfully publishes or lawfully communicates to the public a previously unpublished work, shall benefit from a protection equivalent to the economic rights of the author. The term of protection of such rights shall be 25 years from the time when the work was first lawfully published or lawfully communicated to the public.

So we had the rather odd situation that a work can be unpublished and in the public domain, but that the first person to publish it gains a 25 year copyright on it.

NB this is unpublished - not just out-of-print, so there's no "get another 25 years" possibility here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jellby View Post
So, a work published 71 years after the author's death would be instantly public domain?

I think it would be more logical to have a combination of both rules. Does anyone know how it is in Canada or the rest of the European Union?
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Old 07-10-2009, 06:33 AM   #13
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So we had the rather odd situation that a work can be unpublished and in the public domain, but that the first person to publish it gains a 25 year copyright on it.
It's not entirely odd, because the same 25 year copyright term applies to someone who applies a non-trivial layout to a public domain work; that particular "arrangement" of the work has a copyright term of 25 years from the date of publication; it's called a "typographical copyright".
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Old 07-10-2009, 06:37 AM   #14
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I think that, although the same length, this is different to the typographic copyright, which I think applies only to that particular layout.

The 25 year copyright on publishing unpublished public domain works is a copyright on the works, not the layout. (... "protection equivalent to the economic rights of the author.")

Of course, this won't become important (in the UK) until 2015, when the 25-year term will start to exceed the term under the transitional arrangements which give copyright until 2040 anyway.

You would have though that, for something so essentially simple, copyright laws would be a lot less complex!


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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
It's not entirely odd, because the same 25 year copyright term applies to someone who applies a non-trivial layout to a public domain work; that particular "arrangement" of the work has a copyright term of 25 years from the date of publication; it's called a "typographical copyright".

Last edited by pdurrant; 07-10-2009 at 06:39 AM.
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Old 07-10-2009, 06:44 AM   #15
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Sorry, I didn't make myself clear. Yes, it is a different situation; I simply meant that both are 25 year copyright terms applying to works which are in the public domain.
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