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Old 07-15-2019, 06:00 PM   #1
Ricky D'Angelo
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Public Domain

IMHO, more books should be in the public domain. According to the following source works up to 1923 are currently in public domain in the US.

https://law.duke.edu/cspd/

I know it's not as simple as picking an arbitrary year but perhaps all books up to 1950 should be in public domain. To argue otherwise seems to be more in the interest of censorship (i.e., making books less readily available) rather than profits. Thoughts?
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Old 07-15-2019, 06:24 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ricky D'Angelo View Post
IMHO, more books should be in the public domain. According to the following source works up to 1923 are currently in public domain in the US.

https://law.duke.edu/cspd/

I know it's not as simple as picking an arbitrary year but perhaps all books up to 1950 should be in public domain.
I'd be happy with copyright lasting some set number of years, say a decade, which can be renewed every ten years for some nominal fee. That would allow film companies to keep their desired eternal copyright while allowing orphan works to fall in to the public domain.

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To argue otherwise seems to be more in the interest of censorship (i.e., making books less readily available) rather than profits. Thoughts?
  1. Censorship is a loaded word
  2. The Tolkien estate would disagree that very long copyright has nothing to do with profits. I honestly don't understand where you are coming from with that as an argument.
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Old 07-15-2019, 09:10 PM   #3
Ricky D'Angelo
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I'd be happy with copyright lasting some set number of years, say a decade, which can be renewed every ten years for some nominal fee. That would allow film companies to keep their desired eternal copyright while allowing orphan works to fall in to the public domain.
Agreed.

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  1. Censorship is a loaded word
  2. The Tolkien estate would disagree that very long copyright has nothing to do with profits. I honestly don't understand where you are coming from with that as an argument.
Using the term censorship was a bit hyperbolic hence I qualified it in parenthesis with making books less readily available. You made a good argument with the Tolkien estate regarding wanting to keep the books copyrighted to protect the legacy. However, keeping the vast majority of books from 1923-1950 away from free public consumption doesn't make sense. In fact under a previous copyright law which got overturned books from 1962 out of copyright would've been available this year. By the time the books are available chances are a vast percentage will have been lost. A possible middle ground would be to allow these older books currently in copyright to be scanned and kept in a secure location until released from copyright law.
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Old 07-15-2019, 09:52 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Ricky D'Angelo View Post
IMHO, more books should be in the public domain. According to the following source works up to 1923 are currently in public domain in the US.
I don't know where you are in Latin America, but that area of the world has some of the world's longest copyright lengths. Jamaica is Life + 95 years, and Mexico is moving towards Life + 100 years. Meanwhile, there are lots of titles, in the public domain, in the United States, that are under copyright protection everywhere else.

The unusual thing about United States copyright is it being currently based on year of publication rather than year of author's death. So it's hard to make a general statement about U.S. copyright being, by international standards, short or long.
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Old 07-16-2019, 01:02 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Ricky D'Angelo View Post
By the time the books are available chances are a vast percentage will have been lost. A possible middle ground would be to allow these older books currently in copyright to be scanned and kept in a secure location until released from copyright law.

With luck, Google will have gotten scans of many, but there are definitely books that are near impossible to find. There's one I've been looking for for several years now from my childhood (lost in a move) and there's not a copy to be found for sale at ANY price. A few libraries supposedly have a copy according to WorldCat.

I recently sold a book, a memoir written by an author of some of my childhood books. Only one library (besides presumably the Library of Congress) is listed by WorldCat as having a copy. That book, I think was printed at a vanity press, it's also super scarce.

So it's a very real worry that some of these books won't be easily found by the time they are public domain! We are losing not only the story text, but often many wonderful illustrations too. And losing author biographical information and pictures in many cases, because that was often on the dust jacket only. This is especially true for obscure authors who only wrote one or two books, the information is just not out there on the internet in many cases.

It would be great if there were a repository for some of these books as you say!


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Old 07-16-2019, 04:10 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ricky D'Angelo View Post
Using the term censorship was a bit hyperbolic
Is it hyperbolic if it's real? Mein Kampf wasn't available for purchase until a couple of years ago because it was still under copyright. That copyright was (ab)used to censor the work. Of course it's an exceptional situation, but still.
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Old 07-16-2019, 09:22 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by graycyn View Post
With luck, Google will have gotten scans of many, but there are definitely books that are near impossible to find. There's one I've been looking for for several years now from my childhood (lost in a move) and there's not a copy to be found for sale at ANY price. A few libraries supposedly have a copy according to WorldCat.

I recently sold a book, a memoir written by an author of some of my childhood books. Only one library (besides presumably the Library of Congress) is listed by WorldCat as having a copy. That book, I think was printed at a vanity press, it's also super scarce.

So it's a very real worry that some of these books won't be easily found by the time they are public domain! We are losing not only the story text, but often many wonderful illustrations too. And losing author biographical information and pictures in many cases, because that was often on the dust jacket only. This is especially true for obscure authors who only wrote one or two books, the information is just not out there on the internet in many cases.

It would be great if there were a repository for some of these books as you say!


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Interestingly, mandatory deposit of copyrighted books to the library of Congress is still the law in the US. There is no teeth to the law and it's not a requirement for copyright protection, but it exists. In theory, at least, the Library of Congress should have any work copyrighted in the US, however, I'm pretty sure they don't actually keep copies of everything.
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Old 07-16-2019, 11:04 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by ZodWallop View Post
The Tolkien estate would disagree that very long copyright has nothing to do with profits. I honestly don't understand where you are coming from with that as an argument.
Could you explain that about the Tolkien estate? I've been assuming that books that are being kept copyrighted by the heirs are that way in the hopes of making money from movie, tv, etc. deals.
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Old 07-16-2019, 12:52 PM   #9
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I think he was reading your post as claiming that profit is not a motivation for keeping books in copyright for a long time. Instead, it is about censorship. Meanwhile, the Tolkien estate has probably made more money from its copyrights in the last 15 years than it did in the first 50.

Last edited by SleepyBob; 07-16-2019 at 12:57 PM.
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Old 07-16-2019, 03:08 PM   #10
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I think he was reading your post as claiming that profit is not a motivation for keeping books in copyright for a long time. Instead, it is about censorship. Meanwhile, the Tolkien estate has probably made more money from its copyrights in the last 15 years than it did in the first 50.
The first LOTR movies came out in 2001, so I would say 20 years rather than 15.

The Tolkien trust is an odd situation. Christopher Tolkien, the primary editor of Tolkien's works, is the third son and is 94 years old now. I have no idea how things are split, but the Tolkien family tree is pretty wide spread and there are stories about family squabbles over movie rights and the like. Tolkien died in 1973. I would guess that everything published after Tolkien's death is probably tied to Christopher Tolkien.
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Old 07-16-2019, 06:35 PM   #11
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Meanwhile, the Tolkien estate has probably made more money from its copyrights in the last 15 years than it did in the first 50.
That's what I'm thinking as well. I don't know anything about book publishing and royalties but I'd also bet that J. K. Rowling made a lot more money from the rights to make movies from her books than she did from the sales/royalties of the books.
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Old 07-17-2019, 07:35 AM   #12
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That's what I'm thinking as well. I don't know anything about book publishing and royalties but I'd also bet that J. K. Rowling made a lot more money from the rights to make movies from her books than she did from the sales/royalties of the books.
It's actually kind of complicated. For example, the movie rights to LOTR and The Hobbit was actually sold in 1969 for less than a quarter of a million and for a long time resided with Tolkien Enterprises, a company that has no relation to the Tolkien estate or any of the Tolkien family. That's one of the big reasons that none of the movies contains anything from any of the backstory books such as the Silmarillion. All this was the subject of a long legal battle. I believe that the Tolkien estate won back the rights and now holds them, so they got the $250 M that Amazon paid for the rights to make the TV series. Rumor has it that they also got the rights to some of the back story that was not included in LOTR or the Hobbit.


Apparently Rowling either was more cagey about movie rights than Tolkien was, or she had a better lawyer.
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Old 07-17-2019, 08:48 AM   #13
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Could you explain that about the Tolkien estate? I've been assuming that books that are being kept copyrighted by the heirs are that way in the hopes of making money from movie, tv, etc. deals.
No books are being kept copyrighted by the heirs.

In almost all the world, copyright is automatic, and the term is determined by the date the author dies. The US has a peculiar system which was replaced some years ago with a simple life+70 like most places, but the older copyright rules are still in place for works created before the rule change.

Copyright should indeed be shorter, but it's mostly publishing companies that have pushed for copyright extensions, not author or the heirs of authors.

The best that can be realistically hoped for is a return to life+50, which is the minimum required by the Berne Copyright Convention.

Ideally, I'd like to see (lifetime of author) or (50 years from publication), whichever is longer. But that's never going to happen.
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Old 07-17-2019, 10:01 AM   #14
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I guess "in Lee's perfect world" I'd have copyright for works of fiction be perpetual as long as the copyright holder was tending to the work (keeping it in print, for example).

I don't see a reason for anyone but Disney to be able to create Mickey Mouse material. I know...Disney took many of there stores from old fair tales and the like. But, that would be an example of "if the copyright holder isn't using their works, then other people can".

I say this for FICTION, not science or medicine and the like where society needs there to be further building upon.

Nobody NEEDS to build upon Mickey Mouse. It's fiction. You have unlimited ability to create your own fictional characters. Much in the way of the Sword of Shanara being a scene for scene rip off of the Lord of the Rings....but changed enough (we could argue that point).

So you don't get to own "magic", but you do get to own Harry Potter and Hogwarts....forever if you keep the work available.
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Old 07-17-2019, 10:11 AM   #15
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The next real copyright battle will occur in 2042. The main driver of copyright lengthening is not publishers, but Hollywood. In the 1998 Sonny Bono Act (AKA the Mickey Mouse Preservation Act), print copyright was extended to 95 years, (for works before 1978) or printed works, but extended to 120 years for motion pictures and other video recordings!

So Hollywood doesn't have to worry about any sound video recordings until the 2049. (Except those that accidentally fell into the US Public Domain due to copyright not being renewed from 1923 to 1976.)

Every copyright extension since 1909 has been driven by Hollywood. (Otherwise every movie and TV show from 1962 and prior would be in the Public Domain.)
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