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Old 09-25-2009, 10:40 AM   #1
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Interesting copyright question

I was reading something in Wikipedia the other day about the wife of former US president Ulysses S. Grant. Apparently, she died in 1902 but her personal memoirs were not discovered and published until 1975. So how would copyright on such a work operate? If you go 'life of the author plus x years' then it would be public domain almost from the moment of publication---1975 was already past life plus 50, and now we're well over life plus 100 years. But it was not published until 1975. So does the 'copyright clock' start there? If so, are there separate rules for this kind of situation to prevent the works from being tied up for centuries after the author is already deceased?
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Old 09-25-2009, 10:46 AM   #2
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For works published posthumously between 1922 and 1978 in the USA, the copyright term is 95 years from the date of publication.
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Old 09-25-2009, 11:04 AM   #3
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life of author+70, or 95 years from publication, whichever is sooner. since life of author+70 occurred before it was published, there wouldn't be an active copyright.
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Old 09-25-2009, 11:15 AM   #4
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I asked the same here. It looks far from easy

If the publication + 50 years applies in the UK and EU, that gives 2025.

If what I wrote in post #17 in that thread is valid in Canada, that gives 1980.
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Old 09-25-2009, 11:18 AM   #5
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I was reading something in Wikipedia the other day about the wife of former US president Ulysses S. Grant. Apparently, she died in 1902 but her personal memoirs were not discovered and published until 1975. So how would copyright on such a work operate? If you go 'life of the author plus x years' then it would be public domain almost from the moment of publication---1975 was already past life plus 50, and now we're well over life plus 100 years. But it was not published until 1975. So does the 'copyright clock' start there? If so, are there separate rules for this kind of situation to prevent the works from being tied up for centuries after the author is already deceased?
Rule of thumb: if it's worth a penny, it's copyrighted. Usually by someone totally unrelated to the author.

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Old 09-25-2009, 11:34 AM   #6
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I have a similar rule of thumb:

Figure out what scenario is financially beneficial to a large corporation, and that's probably what copyright law says (since they're the ones that wrote it).
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Old 09-25-2009, 12:07 PM   #7
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I have a similar rule of thumb:

Figure out what scenario is financially beneficial to a large corporation, and that's probably what copyright law says (since they're the ones that wrote it).
That would be copyrights never expiring, and public domain doesn't exist at all.
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Old 09-25-2009, 03:04 PM   #8
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That would be copyrights never expiring, and public domain doesn't exist at all.
That pretty much describes the current scenario, yes.
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Old 09-25-2009, 03:15 PM   #9
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That pretty much describes the current scenario, yes.
agreed, the "...for limited times..." in the constitution?? huh?? what is that?? oh, nevermind, its just the constitution...
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Old 09-25-2009, 03:20 PM   #10
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Okay, so how about this one?

(a) I discover, in my grandpa's basement, an old diary written by (let's say) my great-great grandfather, who has been long dead these last hundred years. I publish it. Copyrighted? I am guessing no.

(b) Same scenario, but great-great grandpa was famous and I want to make money. So I publish, but muck up the whole thing with my own footnotes, commentary and introduction. Is the whole thing now under copyright? Or could someone theoretically edit out all the parts I added until only the parts written by great-great grandpa was left, and put that on Google Books, worry-free?
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Old 09-25-2009, 03:27 PM   #11
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agreed, the "...for limited times..." in the constitution?? huh?? what is that?? oh, nevermind, its just the constitution...
The limited times that keep getting extended.

- Ahi
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Old 09-25-2009, 04:15 PM   #12
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People are actually starting to challenge the current trend toward continuing copyright extension on constitutional grounds because regular extensions do make a mockery of the concept of limited terms and the public domain.
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Old 09-25-2009, 04:23 PM   #13
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The limited times that keep getting extended.

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Technically, "life + 1,000,000" is still limited.
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Old 09-25-2009, 04:24 PM   #14
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Okay, so how about this one?

(a) I discover, in my grandpa's basement, an old diary written by (let's say) my great-great grandfather, who has been long dead these last hundred years. I publish it. Copyrighted? I am guessing no.
Yep! As long as it was never published, it attracts copyright.

And your (b) would attract a seperate term of copyright, if published later.
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Old 09-25-2009, 04:25 PM   #15
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Okay, so how about this one?

(a) I discover, in my grandpa's basement, an old diary written by (let's say) my great-great grandfather, who has been long dead these last hundred years. I publish it. Copyrighted? I am guessing no.

(b) Same scenario, but great-great grandpa was famous and I want to make money. So I publish, but muck up the whole thing with my own footnotes, commentary and introduction. Is the whole thing now under copyright? Or could someone theoretically edit out all the parts I added until only the parts written by great-great grandpa was left, and put that on Google Books, worry-free?
You are wrong in the first case. The copyright starts on the year of publication.

There is a reason why unpublished works have a copyright if published posthumously, and that reason is to provide a financial incentive. Without it, would anyone put in the editing work needed to publish an old journal or collection of letters?
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