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Old 01-03-2011, 02:07 PM   #1
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What If the Copyright Act of 1909 Was Still Law?

Which books would now be entering public domain in 2011? Here's a sampling:
  • Waiting for Godot
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Two Towers
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • The Doors of Perception
  • The Searchers
  • Horton Hears a Who!
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Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. (Corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years.) But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years). Under those laws, works published in 1954 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2011.
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Old 01-03-2011, 03:49 PM   #2
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Also, lets not forget that the 1909 requirement to register a copyright and to renew it 28 years later would make orphaned works much less of a problem. If the work hasn't had its copyright renewed in the last 28 years its in PD period. As opposed to the current situation where you need to determine whether the author is alive or dead, and how long (if dead) and then try to track down the owners of the copyright....

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Old 01-03-2011, 04:07 PM   #3
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Also, lets not forget that the 1909 requirement to register a copyright and to renew it 28 years later would make orphaned works much less of a problem. If the work hasn't had its copyright renewed in the last 28 years its in PD period. As opposed to the current situation where you need to determine whether the author is alive or dead, and how long (if dead) and then try to track down the owners of the copyright....

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Bill
It's actually a lot easier now (everywhere except the US, that is). All you need to know to determine whether or not a work is in copyright or not is the date of the author's death. You don't have to search copyright registers, worry about renewals, or anything else of that nature.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:22 PM   #4
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Yet further proof that We've been bamboozled 'for our own good' and people that supposedly look out for our interests (because we elected them) don't care what you or I have to say in the face of corporate wishes.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:25 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
It's actually a lot easier now (everywhere except the US, that is). All you need to know to determine whether or not a work is in copyright or not is the date of the author's death. You don't have to search copyright registers, worry about renewals, or anything else of that nature.
As long as there's a profit to be made, blockbuster movies and books will never see public domain. The laws will just be revised to extend the copyright.

Money talks.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:34 PM   #6
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As someone who is not aware of the deliberations and lobbying that went behind these laws, I am rather fascinated by these numbers.

I mean what yardstick do they use to come up with a number like 70 or 95 years after death? These numbers sound as random as 28 or 56 years to me.

Most of us working stiffs stop getting paid once we die or retire. So, why should a copyright exist after death? On the contrary, if you believe that creativity must be rewarded or if you are plain greedy, why not a perpetual copyright?
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:39 PM   #7
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Most of us working stiffs stop getting paid once we die or retire. So, why should a copyright exist after death? On the contrary, if you believe that creativity must be rewarded or if you are plain greedy, why not a perpetual copyright?
If you create something valuable, though, you are allowed to leave it to your heirs. If you wrote for a living, and had a family, wouldn't you want the royalty payments from your sales to go to your family after your death?

We can argue about how long copyright terms should be, but I have no problem with the fundamental principle of posthumous copyright.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:44 PM   #8
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I may be wrong, but iirc copyright in 1909 required that the copyright holder fill out forms and pay fees in order to receive protection.

Now, copyright is applied automatically the instant a work is in a fixed form. Although copyright terms may be a bit too long today, this is a huge boon to anyone who does creative work. For example a photographer may knock out hundreds of images in a shoot, and his work is instantly protected.

I seriously doubt copyright will be indefinitely extended. The US Constitution is quite clear that copyright has a limited term, and life + 70 is among the longer terms. I can't imagine they will give a blanket coverage for life + 90 or life +100, followed by life + 120, followed by.... That's far too cynical a position to hold.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:44 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
It's actually a lot easier now (everywhere except the US, that is). All you need to know to determine whether or not a work is in copyright or not is the date of the author's death. You don't have to search copyright registers, worry about renewals, or anything else of that nature.
That only works well when the author is famous. Obscure authors are next to impossible to track down. Both systems have their pluses and minuses.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:48 PM   #10
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My fascination is with the randomness of the time allocated to copyright. I have no objection to copyright as an incentive to innovation but let me play devil's advocate anyway.

If I work on an assembly line to create a machinery that would be in use for 35 years, are my heirs entitled to payment for the next 35 years for my work if I were to die immediately?

What it boils down to is whether you kept your creation to yourself or if you were paid for it. If you were paid, you already converted your "valuable creation" to cash which you are entitled to pass on to your heirs. This is what happens in most other cases. However, if you happen to possess a copyright you can pass on BOTH the cash AND the copyright. Why?
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:57 PM   #11
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I seriously doubt copyright will be indefinitely extended. The US Constitution is quite clear that copyright has a limited term, and life + 70 is among the longer terms. I can't imagine they will give a blanket coverage for life + 90 or life +100, followed by life + 120, followed by.... That's far too cynical a position to hold.
Never underestimate the power of corporate campaign donations. Disney will never allow any of their IP to enter the public domain. They'll find another stooge like Sonny Bono to help them extend copyright to 100 years+. Someday we'll see former MPAA head Jack Valenti's dream of copyright that lasts "forever less one day" come true.
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Old 01-03-2011, 05:49 PM   #12
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Never underestimate the power of corporate campaign donations. Disney will never allow any of their IP to enter the public domain.
It's ironic that Disney relied on the public domain for so much of its material, Snow White, Pinocchio, Treasure Island, Arabian Nights, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc.
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Old 01-03-2011, 06:05 PM   #13
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Current copyright laws have extended the period of copyright protection to ridiculous lengths. In Germany we also have death +70 and an extreme example is the well known author Ernst Jünger. He published his famous diary of WWI "In Stahlgewittern" (Storm of Steel) in 1920. He then went on to live to the ripe old age of 103 years and died in 1998. His war diary will therefore only enter into the public domain in 2068, a nice 148 years after its publication. No one can reasonable argue that this is required to give incentive to creativity.
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Old 01-03-2011, 06:20 PM   #14
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It's ironic that Disney relied on the public domain for so much of its material, Snow White, Pinocchio, Treasure Island, Arabian Nights, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc.
That's not ironic - that's a clever way to create your own set of trademarks without having to pay to any copyright holder in advance.

And trademarks are the corporates' way to elude today's copyrights for coming (stockholders) generations. A trademark can be infinite, so why even bother with a 70+ years law?
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Old 01-03-2011, 06:28 PM   #15
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Current copyright laws have extended the period of copyright protection to ridiculous lengths. In Germany we also have death +70 and an extreme example is the well known author Ernst Jünger. He published his famous diary of WWI "In Stahlgewittern" (Storm of Steel) in 1920. He then went on to live to the ripe old age of 103 years and died in 1998. His war diary will therefore only enter into the public domain in 2068, a nice 148 years after its publication. No one can reasonable argue that this is required to give incentive to creativity.
What a shame he survived WWII ... any author with a social conscience should terminate his/her life as soon as the one novel that had to be written is out.

If you want to read it, buy it. If you want to publish it, acquire the publishing rights. Especially if the work of is of any value to you. Other people's creative lifework isn't supposed to be the freebie playground for society.

Last edited by K-Thom; 01-03-2011 at 06:31 PM.
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