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Old 10-03-2007, 06:09 AM   #1
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Confused: Is there a copyright geek in the house?

I'm confused about the application of the death plus 70 years rule. ('How hard can it be?' I hear you saying 'a book goes into the public domain 70 years after the death of the author - it's not rocket science'. Well read on).

There seem to be a number of authors who died less than 70 years ago whose books seem to be available in the public domain.

A number of PG Wodehouses's books are available (including some from Project Gutenberg) but others still seem to be under copyright.

George Orwell died in 1950, so presumably his books are still in copyright until 2020 but while his books are on Project Gutenberg Australia (where the copyright legislation is death plus 50). Animal Farm is available on Google Books (I haven't looked for others) and is commonly available from other public domain sources.

Is it the case that these books are actually still under copyright but that the death plus 70 legisaltion isn't being enforced or is there some wrinkle?

In asking this question I had James Joyce's Ulysses in mind. I believe that the position is that (as Joyce died in 1941) it came out of copyright in 1991 but then went back into copyright - at least in Europe - a few years later when the death+70 change came in. I have read though that it's status in the US is unclear because it may be that the book was never in copyright in the US due to the original ban and prosecution.

So as the title of the thread says, I'm confused. Can anyone throw a little light on the subject.
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Old 10-03-2007, 06:25 AM   #2
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Andy,

The reason is that different countries have different copyright laws.

Most of the books you mention (Wodehouse, etc) are in the public domain in the US, but not elsewhere in the world. This is because any book published prior to 1923 is PD in the US, regardless of when the author died. The US now has a "life + 70" copyright law, but this only applies to books published after 1978.

I don't know why "Animal Farm" should be available from Google. It is not in the public domain either in the US or in any "life + 70" country. It is in the public domain in Australia, where any book published by an author who died prior to 1954 is PD. Australia used to have a "Life + 50" copyright law, but switched to "Life + 70" in 2004. Any books which had already entered the public domain at that point, however, remained there.

Hope that's some help to you.
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Old 10-03-2007, 06:26 AM   #3
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James Joyce's Ulysses has recently appeared on PG, so I suppose that it must be available for you to do.
The precise workings of copyright are so coomplex that I have difficulty understanding them too.
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Old 10-03-2007, 06:42 AM   #4
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Another complex issue is that prior to some point in the mid 1960s, copyright had to be manually "renewed" in the US. That's why all the magazine SF is being posted to PG - they are magazine stories for which the copyright was not renewed, and hence the material "inadvertently" entered the public domain. Book publishers appear to have been pretty rigorous about renewing their copyrights, but magazine publishers less so. I guess that it was material which wasn't thought to have any lasting value at the time.
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Old 10-03-2007, 10:20 AM   #5
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Another complex issue is that prior to some point in the mid 1960s, copyright had to be manually "renewed" in the US. That's why all the magazine SF is being posted to PG - they are magazine stories for which the copyright was not renewed, and hence the material "inadvertently" entered the public domain. Book publishers appear to have been pretty rigorous about renewing their copyrights, but magazine publishers less so. I guess that it was material which wasn't thought to have any lasting value at the time.
Which may explain the anomaly with PG Wodehouse. Most of his books aren't in the public domain anywhere so maybe the ones that are in the public domain got there because someone in the estate forgot to renew the copyright.

Patricia. My pet project would be to do an annotated version of Ulysses but I'm worried I might get sued by the estate!
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Old 10-03-2007, 11:36 AM   #6
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Which may explain the anomaly with PG Wodehouse. Most of his books aren't in the public domain anywhere so maybe the ones that are in the public domain got there because someone in the estate forgot to renew the copyright.
No, with Wodehouse the PD books (in the US) are those published prior to 1923. Wodehouse is one of those authors who had a very long writing career. Note that no Wodehouse book is, strictly speaking, in the PD in the UK or, indeed, in any country other than the US.
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Old 10-03-2007, 11:41 AM   #7
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No, with Wodehouse the PD books (in the US) are those published prior to 1923. Wodehouse is one of those authors who had a very long writing career. Note that no Wodehouse book is, strictly speaking, in the PD in the UK or, indeed, in any country other than the US.
OK so books published in the US before 1923 are in the public domain in the US irrespective of when the author died? (That might explain the status of Ulysses which IIRC was first published in 1922).
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Old 10-03-2007, 11:44 AM   #8
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Is there an official organism somewhere with up to date lists that can be consulted about PD accessibility?
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Old 10-03-2007, 12:31 PM   #9
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So as the title of the thread says, I'm confused. Can anyone throw a little light on the subject.
I suggest that you check out Tales from the Public Domain:BOUND BY LAW? from the law dept at Duke Univ.

It's a nice comic that explains (at a very simple level) copyright and the issues that we have with it today.
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Old 10-03-2007, 04:38 PM   #10
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OK so books published in the US before 1923 are in the public domain in the US irrespective of when the author died? (That might explain the status of Ulysses which IIRC was first published in 1922).
Correct. Everything published in the US prior to 1923 is in the public domain, regardless of when the author died.
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Old 10-03-2007, 04:53 PM   #11
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I suggest that you check out Tales from the Public Domain:BOUND BY LAW? from the law dept at Duke Univ.

It's a nice comic that explains (at a very simple level) copyright and the issues that we have with it today.
Great read - sure explains many of the issues. I am not sure how simple it is. :-)

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Old 10-03-2007, 04:59 PM   #12
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For those of you outside the US, the US copyright law was once a fixed period with the right to renew that copyright. Books published prior to 1923 have passed through all available copyright protections in the US. Those published after that may or may not still be protected. Many copyrights were held by companies that did for one reason or another ceased to exist (merger, acquired, folded, etc) and a lot of these copyrights were not renewed. This is what happened to a lot of the SciFi that has entered the PD and is posted on PG. Those works that fell out of copyright prior to the new law could not be recopyrighted or taken from the public domain.

PG spends a lot of time and effort researching the copyright status of post 1923 books that are posted on their site. If you read their notices they say that their research did not show any evidence of the copyright still being in force. I am sure that if they somehow missed a renewal and it was proven to them that they would remove the book. A lot of what they publish from the post 1923 era is material that has been out-of-print since the first publication.
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