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Old 02-21-2008, 07:09 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
What's basically happened in the US is that, for things published from 1978 onwards, you have a "life + 70" copyright law, just like most of the rest of the world.

Where it differs from other countries is that, almost entirely due to Disney's political lobbying power (which is considerable), you also have a "publication date + 95 years" protection for things published between 1923 and 1978.

What this means is that nothing new will enter the public domain in the US until the year 2018, and things won't start entering the PD under the normal "life + 70" law that everyone else uses until 2048! I wouldn't even get too excited about the 2018 date. What all observers gloomily agree will happen is that, as that date approaches, Congress will simply extend the "publication + 95 years" protection to something longer.

It really is a pretty shocking state of affairs. Effectively, the public domain has been "sealed off" to new work in the US for the foreseeable future. Things might start working normally again in 2048, but that's a long way off.
My reaction comes a very long time after your message, but I feel it is necessary to be more precise in explanations than that - if you do not want to mislead your audience.

First, the link you gave is very informative and should be studied by people interested in this copyright stuff:

Then, it must be said that the big majority (at least 85%, according to experts) of what was published after 1923 and before 1963 was either published or republished without a copyright notice, or did not see its copyright renewed after 28 years - which implies that all those works are in the American Public Domain, and have been for a long time.

The net consequence is that there is very little risk to infringe copyrights with texts from the thirties or the forties; the burden of proof should belong to copyright owners, but it is indeed possible to check e.g. that copyrights were not renewed in due time, because there are list of copyright renewals available to the public and on the internet. This is what Project Gutenberg does; for instance, they recently published works by Robert F. Young, who dies in 1986 - twenty years ago - that are in the public domain for one of the above reasons. The work was published in 1954, I think, and must have been protected until 1982...

This is why I fell that saying "only use pre-1923 texts and you'll be safe" appears to me to be an excessive statement. I believe it is the reponsibility of the public to make sure that works in the PD by law are asserted as such.
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