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What Could Have Been In the Public Domain Today, But Isn't 309

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the none-for-you dept.
An anonymous reader writes with an article from Duke Law on what would have entered the public domain today were it not for the copyright extensions enacted in 1978. From the article: "What could have been entering the public domain in the U.S. on January 1, 2013? Under the law that existed until 1978, works from 1956. The films Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, The Best Things in Life Are Free, Forbidden Planet, The Ten Commandments, and Around the World in 80 Days; the stories 101 Dalmations and Phillip K. Dick's The Minority Report; the songs 'Que Sera, Sera' and 'Heartbreak Hotel', and more. What is entering the public domain this year? Nothing." And Rick Falkvinge shares his predictions for what the copyright monopoly will try this year. As a bit of a music fan, excessive copyright hits home often: the entire discographies of many artists I like have been out of print for at least a decade. Should copyright even be as long as in the pre-1978 law? Is the Berne Convention obsolete and in need of breaking to actually preserve cultural history?
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What Could Have Been In the Public Domain Today, But Isn't

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  • I nominate... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shentino (1139071) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:17AM (#42440879)

    ...All the stuff that made it to the public domain that was retroactively clawed back after Congress extended copyright and didn't grandfather stuff that had already lapsed.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      ...All the stuff that made it to the public domain that was retroactively clawed back after Congress extended copyright and didn't grandfather stuff that had already lapsed.

      Not enough, I say we cut copyright back to 14 years and everything that is over 14 years old goes into the public domain. The corporations have been raping our culture for long enough. Why are we letting corporations lock up our culture and throw away the key in the name of profit?

      • by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @03:45AM (#42448593)

        It needs to start without any clawbacks.

        If Congress can always speak with a forked tongue and make promises one session only to break them another session no reform is going to mean squat.

        Even if we abolished copyright completely, this clawback proves they can always change their minds and restore the status quo.

  • Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mlw4428 (1029576)
    I don't mean to sound rude or ignorant, but really...who cares? Will the foundations of society crumble because someone can't get out that ONE GOOD Hamlet remake where everyone dresses like they're in present times, but speak in Shakespearean language? We should focus on the REAL issues of copyright and that's the lack of ownership of digital copies or something serious.
    • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:27AM (#42440913) Homepage Journal

      plenty of people care. you could have pretty bitchin digital libraries of education materials without the extensions.
      also libraries would have plenty of print on demand things for really cheap.

      and mickey remixes. gotta have them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kthreadd (1558445)

        There's another side of the coin, since that means that software protected under GPL would loose its protection, which is obviously bad. So there is a good argument for unlimited copyright.

        In my opinion it's much better if copyright holders voluntarily decides to contribute their work to the common good, rather than doing that by force.

        • There's another side of the coin, since that means that software protected under GPL would loose its protection

          GPL is designed to protect users from companies who would take free software, add compelling features to its own product, and restrict users of the improved product. Under a 14+14 year scheme like that of the original Copyright Act, such a company would have to replicate the existing 28 years of improvements before doing that.

          In my opinion it's much better if copyright holders voluntarily decides to contribute their work to the common good, rather than doing that by force.

          Some people claim that allowing people to "voluntarily decide[] to contribute their work to the common good" destroys the market [slashdot.org] and then go and successfully sue anybody who makes another program that performs the same function as their own copyrighted program [slashdot.org].

          • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:05PM (#42442247) Homepage

            GPL is designed to protect users from companies who would take free software, add compelling features to its own product, and restrict users of the improved product. Under a 14+14 year scheme like that of the original Copyright Act, such a company would have to replicate the existing 28 years of improvements before doing that.

            Or in other words, the first GNU code should fall out of copyright four years from now. In six years, they could start hacking from Linux 0.01. OMG, how terrible...

        • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:27AM (#42442021)

          There's another side of the coin, since that means that software protected under GPL would loose its protection,

          OMG! Evil corps like Apple would be able to grab all the GPLd pre-1956 UNIVAC apps and take them closed source!

          Developers would need to pay an annual fee just for the privilege of developing iUNIVAC apps in Objective Fortran. Apple would be skimming huge percentages off of all the apps in the Punchcard Store. Then Apple would probably give everyone compatibility headaches by unilaterally switching CPU architecture from UNIVAC to IBM 650. And for yet more planned obsolescence, they'll seal the mainframe cabinets in welded Lexan, so end users can't replace bad vacuum tubes.

        • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by icebraining (1313345) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:38AM (#42442099) Homepage

          "Force"? You drank too much of the kool-aid. Copyright is a privilege we (society) grant to authors - such as myself - and which can be canceled when we want.

          • by shitzu (931108)

            Copyright was meant to feed the auhors, not their heirs. Copyright of any work should expire once its auhor passes away.

    • Re:Who cares? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:28AM (#42440917)

      I don't mean to sound rude or ignorant, but really...who cares?

      So what you're saying is Que Sera, Sera? If copyrights never expire then there will never be anything close to resolving your assumed legal ownership of that digital copy of whatever. Why? Because if current laws can be tweaked, misused and altered for the benefit of the copyright holders then they'll never have to get around to something serious.

    • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:30AM (#42440929)

      to quote TFA : "[If they had entered public domain as they should have ...] You would be free to translate these books into other languages, create Braille or audio versions for visually impaired readers (if you think that publishers wouldn’t object to this, you would be wrong), or adapt them for film. You could read them online or buy cheaper print editions, because others were free to republish them"

      That's why you should care.

    • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pstorry (47673) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:46AM (#42440979) Homepage

      Everyone should care, because creative works rarely happen in a vacuum.

      As I write this, the other replies have focused mostly on long copyright terms affecting availability - digital libraries, Braille editions, audiobooks, etc.

      But creativity often builds upon what went before. The longer we lock up works with copyright, the more expensive it can become to create new works - because you suddenly find yourself sued by someone who did a similar thing before you were even born, and believes you stole their plot. Or character(s). Or world.

      And yes, people really do sue over these kinds of things.

      Imagine a future where only the largest companies can create, because they have "creativity cross-licenses" where they've agreed not to sue each other. Sort of like we have for patents.

      Now look at the mess that sloppy implementation of ever-further-reaching patent law has gotten us into.

      That's why you should care.

    • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:30AM (#42441209) Homepage Journal

      What society do you refer to? A society in which everyone, and everything is measured by it's value to a corporation? If changing copyright back to about fifteen or twenty years should cause that society to crumble and fall, then we should change it. No other reason is needed to do so.

    • So that's the only standard by which decisions should be made, whether the foundations of society will crumble? Well, let's see. Will the foundations of society crumble because I set fire to your house? Nope, nothing to worry about there. Will the foundations of society crumble if police are allowed to set up cameras and record anyone in their homes without a warrant? Ehhh, a few people might complain but no crumbling going on here.

      Dismissing a concern on the grounds of ridiculous hyperbole is about as

  • by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:22AM (#42440897)

    The the UK, publishers started printing new works from living authors without giving them anything and without permission. That is why copyright was created. It was never intended to restrict private citizens, just to prevent commercial exploitation that made authors starved.

    Seems to me we have reached that point again and copyright is only a perverted shadow of what it was intended as. Dropping it completely for non-commercial use and 8 or 12 years for commercial use would have tremendous benefits society as a whole.

    • by paaltio (978687) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:26AM (#42441179) Homepage Journal

      Seems to me we have reached that point again and copyright is only a perverted shadow of what it was intended as. Dropping it completely for non-commercial use and 8 or 12 years for commercial use would have tremendous benefits society as a whole.

      Are you saying that I as a professional composer should let companies use my older music for free in commercial contexts, to benefit society? How could that possibly benefit anyone except the companies that already are completely nickel-and-diming freelancers like myself?

      • Because you'd be free to use other people's older music to make derivative works.

      • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:28AM (#42442035) Homepage

        Are you saying that I as a professional composer should let companies use my older music for free in commercial contexts, to benefit society? How could that possibly benefit anyone except the companies that already are completely nickel-and-diming freelancers like myself?

        It benefits society to have multiple sources for copies of works, and to have various sorts of copies of those works. You can go to a bookstore and buy copies of Shakespeare, and some of them will be of high quality, and others will be cheap, and you can go online and download the same works for free.

        It benefits society to have derivative works. Other composers can create works based on yours without having to get permission (which may be withheld) or having to meet your standards of quality (which they might not even want to do, due to differing tastes), and other authors can use your works as soundtracks for films or such.

        It benefits society to have works publicly performed. A commercial but low-budget orchestra or venue might be able to afford to perform your material based on ticket sales, selling ads in the program, etc., but might not be able to pay licensing fees as well. If the material is in the public domain, it might reach more people.

        And it benefits you to have a thriving public domain, since unless you're some sort of weird ascetic, you're likely to listen to more works than you create, and the cheaper they are, the easier this is for you, all else being equal. And if you don't have to seek permission or pay licensing fees, you're freer to create derivative works based on those works.

        Just because something benefits companies that are hostile to you doesn't mean that it can't benefit everyone. Those companies benefit from taxpayer-supported police, and fire departments, and judicial systems, and so forth, as we all do. Dismantling them out of spite would just harm ourselves more.

      • Are you saying that I as a professional composer should let companies use my older music for free in commercial contexts, to benefit society?

        Well, depending on HOW OLD that work is, that answer varies from no, to maybe, to a definitive YES - something that was very much true of copyright laws back when the term was considerably shorter.

      • by Reziac (43301) *

        This is why I like the idea of an escalating fee schedule for copyright. First 7 or 14 years, very small fee. And then double it every 7 years. You could renew copyright indefinitely, so long as it was financially viable for you to do so, but when a given copyright became unprofitable for you, then you could let it go into the public domain.

        Copyright was never intended to be permanent for any work.

    • by Bogtha (906264)

      Actually, copyright was originally a censorship mechanism for the Crown. It's true that there was a transformative change to protect authors with the Statute of Anne, but there were laws in place before then you could fairly refer to as copyright law.

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @03:28PM (#42444317)
      That was UK, and long, long ago.

      Copyright in the United States was intended to serve the public (it even says so in the Constitution) by encouraging new works by granting creators an exclusive right to their works for a limited time. That limited time was originally 15 (or 17?) years, same as patents.

      I argue that it should be the same now. Certainly no more than 20 years.
  • by Arker (91948) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:22AM (#42440899) Homepage

    Under the law at the time, these âoemusical compositionsâ â" the music and lyrics â" were subject to copyright, but the particular âoesound recordingsâ embodying the musical compositions were not; federal copyright did not cover sound recordings until 1972. So, for example, the musical composition âoeQue Sera, Seraâ written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans was copyrighted, but not Doris Dayâ(TM)s particular sound recording of that composition.

    This old rule made more sense if you ask me. And notice that, despite copyright covering only 'the work' itself rather than particular instantiations of it, the music industry was still able to grow huge and make tons of money under the old law.

    The software equivalent would be to hold source code copyrightable, but not binaries. And this would make even more sense.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:52AM (#42441007)

      If you don't get source, the binary is not expressive and cannot be used to advance the state of the art, therefore should not be copyrightable.

      I think that most people would agree that if you had the source code (and it WAS the source code) for the binary sold, then this could be copyrighted together since the binary is merely an operable version of the source code.

      But if you don't have source, you don't get copyrights on either the code (it is a trade secret) or the binary (it isn't copyrightable on its own).

      Remember: just because JK Rowling's books are "Open source" (if you can read the language it is written in), this neither stops JKR making money off the work nor means people can just make a new "Barry Hotter and the Chamber of Commerce" if it would be too much a rip-off.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:29AM (#42440923)

    Then it should be treated like your house.

    Taxes paid on it.

    You must maintain it or have it reposessed.

    If you don't evict squatters after a time they become the new owners (effective abandonment)

    Public gets rights to access.

    Pay tax on your "property" and if you let it fall into ruin, you lose it.

    • If houses were like IP, those bricklayers would be rich, after all, they could charge everyone living in the house, even 70 years after they died.

    • by KiloByte (825081) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:28AM (#42441189)

      This is an interesting idea. While I'd rather see copyright abolished completely, what about this:

      * if you hold copyright on work X, you declare how much it is worth
      * a periodic tax is levied, based on the value you declared
      * at any moment, you may declare a higher value. It can go up but never down (valuable works that are no longer profitable should go public).
      * at any moment, you may abandon the copyright, irrevocably putting the work into public domain
      * anyone may buy the copyright from you for the listed price
      * if the other party intends to buy it to keep (as opposed to freeing it to the public), you may instead raise the value [1]
      * the tax rate increases with time

      [1]. You could have immediately bought it back for the same price, this rule merely resolves such a loop for the benefit of the old holder.

      Such a scheme would ensure any copyright is taxed based on its fair market valuation.

      • by La Gris (531858)

        Your proposals sounds really clever.

        I deserve you a symbolic +1 Interesting because I have no mod points today.

      • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:22AM (#42441987) Homepage

        http://journalism.berkeley.edu/projects/biplog/archive/000431.html [berkeley.edu]

        I got the idea earlier from someone's slashdot sig around then which I saw in passing -- wish I could figure out who. The sig was something like: "If it is intellectual property, why isn't it taxed?"

        In the variant I proposed, anyone could pay the money to put the copyright into the public domain (not purchase it for themselves).

        Lawrence Lessig proposed something simpler -- a small ($50) tax after fifty years to re-register a copyright. That way at least all the abandoned works would become public domain when the tax was not paid on them (which would be a matter of public record). So, even some simple steps could be a huge step forward.

    • Taxes paid on it.

      Dead people earn a lot of money, and pay taxes on it: http://www.forbes.com/special-report/2012/1024_dead-celebrities.html [forbes.com]

      And no, you can't take it with you, unfortunately.

      Vampires are undead, who live off the living. In the case of celebrities, there are living people who are living off the dead.

      • In the case of celebrities, there are living people who are living off the dead.

        Ghouls, in other words

  • This is the obvious way to make it not matter at all what they lock down for 100s of years. Laurel and Hardy used to be on every Christmas when I was a child. I haven't seen any of their films now for a long long time. Probably they're all sitting in a vault somewhere turning to dust. I guess it is a reminder than in 10^3, 10^4, 10^5, 10^6 ... years eventually it will all be lost. So, we lost all our culture early because of greedy people. Well let them have it. I'm happy to opt out of their world.
    • by cffrost (885375) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:01AM (#42441041) Homepage

      This is the obvious way to make it not matter at all what they lock down for 100s of years. Laurel and Hardy used to be on every Christmas when I was a child. I haven't seen any of their films now for a long long time. Probably they're all sitting in a vault somewhere turning to dust. I guess it is a reminder than in 10^3, 10^4, 10^5, 10^6 ... years eventually it will all be lost.

      Probably, but you can do something: Help keep backups online. [thepiratebay.se]

      I've found myself become the (apparent) sole custodian—i.e., the only persistent, public seeder that I can see—of a number works. When that happens, I feel an obligation to keep my copy available indefinitely. I consider the personal risk in doing so to be less serious than the risk of one of said works becoming permanently unavailable.

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:17AM (#42441121)

      Well, I guess we're heading into a new "dark age" when it comes to our culture and art. We will of course have all the documents and historians of the future will have no problem discovering what politicians ruled where, what wars were fought and why, but what music we listened to, what movies we saw, will be lost.

      Lost due to incompatibility and formats that nobody can read anymore. How many items from earlier times do you have on VHS and Beta that you digitized so it won't be lost when that VCR dies? No such luck with BluRays. Once there is no player for it anymore, those discs are mighty shiny coasters, but that's pretty much it.

      Creating a big "national archive" isn't really going to solve the issue either, at least if we don't think in decades but centuries. Remember the great library of Alexandria? It did contain pretty much all the knowledge of its time, and all of it was lost in the big fire. All it takes is some civil war or some religious nuts taking over and declaring the whole crap as "heretic" and we being better off if we just destroy it.

      Though blaming just the religious nuts is maybe a bit short sighted, considering pretty much the same happened with a lot of religious iconography in Russia when the Soviets took over, so ... no matter what radical idea takes over, anything in government hands is prone to destruction.

      Historians often have to rely on "private" archives that nobody but the original owner knew about, because such archives are usually much safer from deliberate destruction. But just these archives will not be available to future historians.

    • . Laurel and Hardy used to be on every Christmas when I was a child. I haven't seen any of their films now for a long long time. Probably they're all sitting in a vault somewhere turning to dust.

      Checking "find TV shows" on my Tivo... I find three showings of Laurel and Hardy on a local channel in the next two weeks. (Which is all the further Tivo caches schedule information.)

      Checking Netflix, there's a whole raftload of Laurel & Hardy, both streaming and DVD's. Hulu has ten episodes. Amazon

      • by Aguazul2 (2591049)
        Oh no! I have to spend 2 seconds thinking of a better example now. (I am not US-resident, incidentally, so would not know what is available on your local region-locked providers.)
  • old game roms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spikestabber (644578) <{spike} {at} {spykes.net}> on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:38AM (#42440957) Homepage
    You only need to go as far as the MAME, or the (S)NES libraries to realize copyright is broken. Licensing issues or lame owners prevent at least 80% of these titles from ever seeing the legitimate light of day ever again. Copyright has become a cultural lockup, nothing more.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It gets a helluva lot more recent than SNES. There are countless games and applications which for all intents and purposes are abandoned, yet someone is still holding onto those rights. There was a game from the mid 90s that some artist and coder friends got the idea to remake. We spent the better part of a year trying to get a hold of whoever holds the rights to it currently, must have called 100 people myself, but never found who that is. We resorted to provoking the rights holder into surfacing by making

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:00AM (#42441037)

    The Berne convention isn't just obsolete, it should never have been adopted in the first place. Its most odious aspect is the prohibition of registration requirements, creating the large orphan works problem we have now.

    The irony about the Berne convention is that Europeans pushed for it thinking that they would be the largest beneficiaries under it because Europe had traditionally been so culturally productive. But it turned out that it was instead a boon to the US movie and music industries, and they have learned to play the copyright game very well. Now, Europeans are crying foul even though they are responsible for the mess in the first place.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:06AM (#42441055)

    Actually, shortening it would reflect the changes in technology and society.

    The original copyright (IIRC of 7 years) was adequate for the time when it was invented. It took a creator a long while to get his works into a format where it can be reproduced easily, reproduction took quite a bit of time and making the item known to create a stock of customers took even longer. Those 7 years was pretty much what it took to get the item produced and sold.

    Today, creation, reproduction and advertising can be done in mere hours, maybe days. A copyright of about 7 months would reflect the reality of today.

  • No, thank you. I would puke having Mickey Mouse danc8ng with 101 Dalmatians to the Queens "we are the champions" in the new, exciting corn flakes ad. Seriously, ladies and gentelmen: copyright is evil and im fine with this.
  • by paiute (550198) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:43AM (#42441287)
    It's pretty clear to me that nothing will ever again be allowed to enter the public domain.
    • by kthreadd (1558445)
      Copyright holders can of course always choose to do that. And if it turns out that none of us wants to distribute our work under such circomstances, then why are we doing this in the first place?
    • by jrincayc (22260) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:47AM (#42442141) Homepage

      I think the next copyright extension will be very hard to pass. Back in 1976 and 1998 when copyright extensions were passed, it was not very obvious that out of copyright materials were easier to obtain. Project Gutenberg existed in 1998, but it was not very well known. Now, most people know about Project Gutenberg or Google Books. It will be much harder for the copyright term extension lobby to argue for term extension when the downsides are so obvious. I guess we will what happens before 2018.

  • It probably doesn't say much that most slashdotters aren't already familiar with, but this video [youtube.com] is both entertaining and informative about the subject.
  • The way Western democratic countries are run.

  • Unless I'm interpreting the Berne convention wrong, literary works of authors that published in signatories outside of the USA either solely or simultaneously as publication in the US, will still enter the public domain 50 years after the authors death or the lesser of the terms granted by any of the signatory country publications. Combined with the summary , this leads me to believe that A) the summary is false and works from other countries did enter the public domain, B) No authors died in 1962 and the s
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:53AM (#42442171)

    Now for some software if you need a old ver for say an older os or even older cpu's (think mac 68K and even ppc) and they don't sell the older ver any more. What can you do download it? try to find it on e-bay?

    also there is a lot of abandonware that you can't buy at all.

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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