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

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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  • Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mlw4428 ( 1029576 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:18AM (#42440885)
    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 @09:27AM (#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:Who cares? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:28AM (#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.

  • old game roms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spikestabber ( 644578 ) <> on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:38AM (#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:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pstorry ( 47673 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:46AM (#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.

  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:46AM (#42440981)

    no new movie, has been made in the last 30 some years because of these copyright laws
    no new book has been written
    no new music made

    You missed a major consequence: we don't see a lot of old movies, old books, old songs. Because no one knows who the copyright belongs to, so no one dares reissue or adapt them in case they get sued. Or the owner is known but doesn't think it's profitable to release, so no one else can ever do so either.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:48AM (#42440989)

    "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."

    On the contrary. When these laws were created, only those with expensive equipment (publishers) were in a position to adversely affect the ability of authors to make a living from their work. Modern technology allows large numbers of private individuals to do just as much damage to living authors of all types of works by making unauthorised copies for which the author receives no payment.

    Consider the majority of professional photographers who deal primarily with individual, personal clients. The photographer has only two real choices: charge lots more for doing the initial job (because they know full well that they're never going to sell any copies) or switch to a different market altogether. That doesn't benefit the consumer, does it? It just means those services cease to be available, not because the services aren't wanted any more but because the majority of consumers are too dishonest to be worth dealing with.

    Sadly, I don't think there's a realistic solution to this. Not while the average consumer continues to believe it's okay to rip off the author because 'it's just for personal use'.

  • by pstorry ( 47673 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @09:55AM (#42441021) Homepage

    It's hard to detect sarcasm on the internet, so I'm going to assume you're serious. :-)

    we are forced to keep on buying the same old movies over and over

    Quite. Only the big studios can afford to license the old films for remakes.

    So Disney's big break was with a film based on a folk story written down by the Brothers Grimm - it was out of copyright. Nobody to pay, nobody to clear changes with... Does the modern film-maker looking for a break have such luxuries?

    Can any new film maker do what Disney did? Modern copyright probably makes it very difficult indeed, and somewhat risky as there may always be someone who crawls out of the woodwork to sue you after you've done the expensive hard work...

    So we are forced to see nothing but franchises and remakes of old films, as they are "safe" in copyright terms.

    A great pity.

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @10:00AM (#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 @10:06AM (#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.

  • by paaltio ( 978687 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @10:26AM (#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?

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

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @10:30AM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @10:38AM (#42441257)

    Sure, pre-internet, that would work. Now authors can release and sell books without the publishers help.

  • 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 [] and then go and successfully sue anybody who makes another program that performs the same function as their own copyrighted program [].

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

    by maeglin ( 23145 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:29AM (#42441607)

    Or we could ask the copyright holder to release it under such license. No need to force anyone.

    Copyright is misnamed. It's not a right granted to an individual, it's a restriction placed on everyone else. It may make sense to restrict 5,999,999,999 people for the benefit of one person for a limited time. But, using your stellar logic, why force anyone to do something they don't want to do? The author chose to create something, everyone else is being forced. No need to force anyone, right?

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:38AM (#42441673)

    So there is a good argument for unlimited copyright.

    No, there is not. Not on a planet with approx. 7B people. Copyright needs to be radically pruned. It was introduced as an _artificial_ monopoly with a very clear goal. This goal has been all but lost. It's simply beyond ridiculous...

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

    by redwraith94 ( 1311731 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @11:38AM (#42441677)
    I don't understand this lack of a line of logic. Congress was granted the authority to protect works of art & science for the sake of their authors. They were also charged with doing it a manner that actually furthers the ENTIRE country's artistic & technical development. Patents are only good for 20 years...Did you cure cancer? That'll be 20 years that your work is protected...Did you invent Disney? That'll be 90?! That is thoughtless, and indefensible.

    Copyright infringement penalties of $150,000 PER INSTANCE or there about are absurd in a age where I can make millions of copies in minutes by clicking a button.

    Patenting molecules for drugs that we have negligently released to the market without adequate testing it preposterous. Drug PROCESSES should be patented, NOT the molecule, as this would actually spur innovation to find a more efficient process, as well as encourage companies that have a modicum of pride in their work to test the molecule perhaps more thoroughly, as they could sell it too...

    Patenting genes, and then getting to sue farmers that have copies of these genes on their land (Monsanto), because the wind you know carries things is no small mix of absurd, criminal, ludicrous, unhealthy, and apparently dreamed up by those with no respect for reality.

    Anyone who actually bothers to take anything close to a fair & balanced review of our current system regarding Patents, and Copyrights will find nothing short of a full blown kleptocracy.

    Alot of people do not seem to understand the reason Congress was granted this authority in the first place. It was to balance the need to protect the creator of the work, with the need for the public to have to access to it. Another example of this is that Patents MUST contain enough detail about the invention that 'anyone similarly skilled in the art can recreate it', otherwise the work is unpatentable, and is to be rejected as such. The Authors have no more right to protection of their work than we have the right to demand it for free to further the good of all. It is a balance between the two, and it is currently quite broken. As congress has engaged in nothing approaching due diligence in the matter.
  • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kthreadd ( 1558445 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:13PM (#42441917)
    What that means is that when future generations look at our culture all they will see is free/open source software and creative commons since everything else will either be long gone or happened to be good enough that it survived.
  • Re:Who cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:18PM (#42441957)

    Fuck availability.

    If it were public domain, you could create a school play based on it, or a musical version, or whatever you want, without asking anyone's permission first. *That* is the big fucking deal.

    Stop thinking like a consumer, start thinking like a creator.

  • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:28PM (#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.

  • So if I'm writing a song, what steps should I take to make sure that I don't accidentally infringe the copyright in any of the millions of copyrighted songs under the control of BMI and ASCAP? To make the example more concrete, what should I do to keep another Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music from happening?
  • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Freddybear ( 1805256 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:36PM (#42442085)

    You just shrugged off a whole lot of early jazz and blues recordings and the golden age of science fiction.

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

    by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:38PM (#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 jrincayc ( 22260 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @12:47PM (#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.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:02PM (#42442229)

    By the same token though, if the original publisher waits until the copyright has expired there's nothing to stop a competing publisher from immediately duplicating it and selling at half-price. If you know the original publisher is completely ripping off the author anyway, why wouldn't you wait a few weeks longer to get the half-priced book? More to the point, why would the author sign a contract with a company that behaved in such a manner? They might be able to screw over one author once, but then they're out of business. Better all around if a company with such aspirations plays it straight and simply purchases an exclusive royalty-free license outright. They'd have a hard time attracting market-proven authors, but the (presumably) larger up-front payment might actually be attractive to many more niche authors.

    And that of course is ignoring the fact that we no longer live in a world where publishers are a necessary intermediary - digital distribution, e-readers, and print-on-demand means that book publishers are entering a situation not unlike music publishers have been struggling with. The big difference being that book publishers haven't built their business around artificially inflating the careers of a few superstars and completely screwing over their contracted artists, so an equitable solution may actually be possible.

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

    by smugfunt ( 8972 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:04PM (#42442241)

    Congress was granted the authority to protect works of art & science for the sake of their authors.

    Not so:

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

    The end was to promote progress. Securing rights for the artists is just the means.
    While I agree with most of what you say it's important to to keep the order of things in mind. Confusion on this point is the Copyright Cartels' main weapon.

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

  • The Finnish state provides a number of means of support for composers that help insulate them from market forces and filesharing. Even if recordings of your work were massively pirated (or no one bought recordings because they are provided free in our country's excellent public libraries), your bills would still be paid. Thus the arist is supported but music listeners do not need to be hassled about where they get their music from.

    But I see from your website that you do not write art music, but rather scores for foreign lowbrow cinema and the like. If you have chosen to forsake public funding and work in a corporate milieu, than filesharing should be the least of your worries about exploitation, as your creative energies are already entirely at the manipulation of corporations.

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

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:23PM (#42442361) Homepage

    Nevermind "creating" a school play. You can just PERFORM a school play without forking over money YOU DON'T HAVE. These "consumers" just don't get it. You can't even train the performers and composers of tomorrow without creative works of the past. They need to perform something in order to learn their craft.

    If you make this prohibitively expensive, you undermine future creative activity. This is a problem not just of "high art" but also of commerce. The RIAA and MPAA need future actors and musicians to exploit. They are threatening their own labor pool.

  • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:38PM (#42442477) Homepage

    The copyright term was intended to reflect the economic life of the work to the author

    Not at all.

    In the modern world, the economic life of works is usually pretty short after each publication in a different medium.

    A morning newspaper, like a mayfly, runs through most of its economic value in just a few hours.

    A typical book has a lifespan of 6-18 months in hardback, and 6-18 months in paperback; a book that still has notable sales after a couple of years is rare. You may think it happens a lot, if you think about the many classic books you see at the store, but really it's minuscule when you consider the vast number of books that don't stay in print.

    Movies have short lifespans per publication, but get republished a lot (taking publication in a broad sense inclusive of performance). They come out at first run theaters, and last a few weeks, maybe a month, but usually every week after the opening weekend gets worse and worse; it gets fewer showings, and at worse times, and is steadily displaced by newer movies. Finally it leaves the first run theater and goes to the second run theater, where the ticket prices are less and so are the revenues. Eventually it's out of theaters entirely, and goes to tv. It'll be on pay-per-view, then it'll be published for home video and hit the rental market, where it has a similar spike of popularity and then sells less and less (unless there's a format switch, but Bluray hasn't been a smash success, and we may be seeing the end of that sort of thing). It goes to premium cable channels, then basic cable, then major broadcast networks, and before you know it, it's the Saturday Afternoon Movie on some little independent tv station. The whole process can be stretched out over years, which is impressive, but the original box office take is generally a lot more than the licensing fee that a UHF station will pay.

    Textbooks for subjects that don't change a lot -- math, high school science in places without religious nuts, grammar -- may also enjoy unusually long lives, but it's a pretty limited market to begin with.

    And going back to the beginning of it all, the 14+14 terms from the Statute of Anne have nothing to do with the economic lifetime of works in the early 18th century. Fourteen years was the term that a patent monopoly could be granted back in the old days, and one monopoly being like another, the term length was adopted for copyrights. The choice of 14 years IIRC was twice the length of an apprenticeship at the time, the idea being that a master with a patent could train a couple of sets of apprentices with the new arts. So it's all fairly arbitrary, really. Certainly no one was doing careful analysis of what was best.

    The copyright system is to protect the creator's interests

    Utterly wrong. In the US, at least, copyright exists to promote the progress of science -- a public benefit. It doesn't exist for the benefit of authors at all.

    The consumers already have a legitimate way to obtain the work -- purchase it or borrow it from a library or a friend.

    You might want to check out the Kirtsaeng case currently before the Supreme Court; the publishers are trying to prevent people from legitimately borrowing copies from libraries and friends. No surprise there; publishers hate libraries.

    Copyright consumers don't add anything to society as it pertains to artistic works beyond their ability to pay for it.

    Copyright consumers are society. Immersion in our culture, and access to our learning, history, and arts is vital for a healthy, active, educated society.

    Personally, I don't have any sympathy for people wanting to get something for free.

    So you are saying that authors should be obligated to pay for their copyrights, and that they shouldn't just be granted them automatically?

    Personally, I wouldn't say that I have sympathy for people who want thin

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

    by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @01:53PM (#42442595) Homepage

    The loss of our culture is both bad and distressing.

    There are people who would give and arm and a leg for just one of the lost plays of Shakespeare, much less the 100+ lost plays of Sophocles, or the full contents of the libraries of Alexandria the Cotton Library, or the lost works of the Aztecs or the Maya.

    Works should never be lost, and should never be forgotten. Many works will be unpopular and ignored, that's true. But they should nevertheless be preserved. Someone thought they were important enough to create. The least we can do is to keep it intact. And in the future, who knows; perhaps someone will want it, and perhaps it will be of value. No one has a right to deny literally everyone who will come after. No one has a right to destroy our culture and erase our history. We're better off when people don't burn books. Even if an author wants to burn his own books, it should not be supported, and when possible should not be permitted. No one who loves such things could countenance their destruction, even if it is merely through greed and sloth.

    tl;dr: Fuck you. You're the worst person I've seen or heard mention of today.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 01, 2013 @08:46PM (#42446401)

    I would also like to add that every time anyone uses the word "consumer" it denigrates everyone whom they're referring to. Consumers have no rights, dignity, or free agency. They exist solely to be exploited.

    Citizens, people, customers, et. al. are better words to use rather than consumer. The consumer concept is destroying us and our whole way of life.

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

    by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @11:10AM (#42450263)

    If someone writes a best seller then dies, what is wrong with their heirs being able to profit for a reasonable time?

    Depends on whether the heirs supported you while you wrote - there's nothing inherently wrong with your spouse, for example, getting some return on helping you create the work (for a limited period, of course, as you say). Even if all s/he did was bring you an occasional bowl of hot soup it's still easier to create when you have a family support structure.

    But if you're talking about heirs that are your children (or any sort of corporation or third party) then what's wrong with that idea is the same thing that is wrong with a person never having to work by virtue of being born a lord, while others were born to be your slaves. Inheritances that create and sustain a nonproductive aristocracy are toxic to individual morals and behavior and destructive to a well ordered egalitarian society.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."