Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Books Movies United States

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain (theatlantic.com) 113

For the first time in two decades, a huge number of books, films, and other works will escape U.S. copyright law. From a report: The Great American Novel enters the public domain on January 1, 2019 -- quite literally. Not the concept, but the book by William Carlos Williams. It will be joined by hundreds of thousands of other books, musical scores, and films first published in the United States during 1923. It's the first time since 1998 for a mass shift to the public domain of material protected under copyright. It's also the beginning of a new annual tradition: For several decades from 2019 onward, each New Year's Day will unleash a full year's worth of works published 95 years earlier.

This coming January, Charlie Chaplin's film The Pilgrim and Cecil B. DeMille's The 10 Commandments will slip the shackles of ownership, allowing any individual or company to release them freely, mash them up with other work, or sell them with no restriction. This will be true also for some compositions by Bela Bartok, Aldous Huxley's Antic Hay, Winston Churchill's The World Crisis, Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Pigeons, E.E. Cummings's Tulips and Chimneys, Noel Coward's London Calling! musical, Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front, many stories by P.G. Wodehouse, and hosts upon hosts of forgotten works, according to research by the Duke University School of Law's Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

Throughout the 20th century, changes in copyright law led to longer periods of protection for works that had been created decades earlier, which altered a pattern of relatively brief copyright protection that dates back to the founding of the nation. This came from two separate impetuses. First, the United States had long stood alone in defining copyright as a fixed period of time instead of using an author's life plus a certain number of years following it, which most of the world had agreed to in 1886. Second, the ever-increasing value of intellectual property could be exploited with a longer term. But extending American copyright law and bringing it into international harmony meant applying "patches" retroactively to work already created and published. And that led, in turn, to lengthy delays in copyright expiring on works that now date back almost a century.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain

Comments Filter:
  • by spiritplumber ( 1944222 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @12:13PM (#56523765) Homepage
    they still have 6 months to legislate an extension.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 29, 2018 @12:30PM (#56523849)

      they still have 6 months to /buy/ an extension.

      FTFY

    • Yeah, but this is one of the few advantages of a really non-functional Congress- they are much less likely to get their act together to do the usual repeated extensions of copyrights.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's obvious you've bought into the narrative. The Dems/Repub only put on the show for the bases over stuff that doesn't matter. When the cash stream of those who really run things is threatened both sides of the aisle march in goosestep to push through legislation, setting it up so that each side can blame the other for the screwing the American people will take.

    • When upholding the 1998 extension in Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court did so on grounds that it was harmonizing the copyright term to that of a major market for U.S. works, specifically distinguishing it from the sort of "legislative misbehavior" that commons advocates would refer to as "perpetual copyright on the installment plan." At the time, the European Union had recently extended the term from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years to reflect the trend to start a family later, as the rationale for life plus 50 in the first place [copyrightalliance.org] had been the life of those heirs whom the author knew personally.

      So to what major market would a third successive extension be billed as harmonizing? No good answer would probably mean the third strike shows "legislative misbehavior."

      • In Germany "copyright" always was 70 years after death of the author.
        I'm not aware of any EU copyright changes in the last 50 years. The Berne convention is close to 100 years old ...

      • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @02:13PM (#56524375)

        When upholding the 1998 extension in Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court did so on grounds that it was harmonizing the copyright term to that of a major market for U.S. works, specifically distinguishing it from the sort of "legislative misbehavior" that commons advocates would refer to as "perpetual copyright on the installment plan." At the time, the European Union had recently extended the term from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years to reflect the trend to start a family later, as the rationale for life plus 50 in the first place [copyrightalliance.org] had been the life of those heirs whom the author knew personally.

        So to what major market would a third successive extension be billed as harmonizing? No good answer would probably mean the third strike shows "legislative misbehavior."

        All excellent points, but in the end only one thing matters.

        The people's willingness to obey copyright laws.

        They can pass whatever laws they like but copyright is impossible to enforce unless most people are willing to follow it's restrictions. As the copyright cartels have bemoaned since forever, the more they strengthen/extend copyright laws, the more people that violate copyright.

        The US alone has ~310 million people. If even half decide to ignore copyright law it's done. The US government hasn't got the means to investigate, charge, and prosecute ~150 million-plus people if it wanted to.

        No law is enforceable in a nation of many millions if most of the population ignores it.

        Strat

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          Well as the "War on Drugs" has shown, they can make a good try. How many Americans in prison now? How many have had fundamental rights removed?

          • Also, it's a pretty powerful tool in the pocket of those in power when nearly EVERYONE they interact with are violating a law. That's thousands of dollars in liability where the owners are simply... merciful. When convenient.

            • by dryeo ( 100693 )

              Good point. Another use is targeting certain demographics that are unpopular for what ever reason.

        • by haruchai ( 17472 )

          "No law is enforceable in a nation of many millions if most of the population ignores it."

          They can always enforce it, even if it's only on a small number of people and can keep raising the penalties to exorbitant levels.
          Sure the chance that any one of 155 million copyright infringers being charged may be vanishing small but that's cold comfort to the handful that get fined $100,000 per file and get sent to prison.

      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @04:36PM (#56524989)
        The big test will be in 2036. That's when we hit 70 years from Walt Disney's death. That year, under current copyright law, anything Disney published before 1941 (secondary term of 95 years since first publication) falls into the public domain.
        • Most of Disney's work was done as a corporation, not an individual.

        • Disney's death has nothing to do with it. All of the Disney movies are works for hire, and have a 95 year copyright term. Unless the term is extended. early Disney cartoon shorts will enter the public domain next year, and the first Mickey Mouse cartoons will be public domain in 2024. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his first full-length movie will be public domain in 2033. Even if they were not works for hire, the life+70 term limit is only valid for works created after 1975. Anything currently in copy
          • Disney's death has nothing to do with it. All of the Disney movies are works for hire

            The definition of a "work made for hire" or "work of corporate authorship" in the copyright law of other countries may differ from that of the United States, particularly the EU countries whose Copyright Duration Directive formed the basis for the 1998 extension in the United States.

            • Since this article is about US copyright, and because Disney died in 1966 before the US switched to life+50, later extended to life+70, the public domain status in the US for no Disney movie created during his lifetime is affected by his death date, only the publication date. They will only stay in copyright longer if Congress extends the term again. It may well be that in Canada (still life+50), some or all of his movies are already in the public domain, or in the EU, they will be PD in 18 years, dependi
      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        Nope the extra 20 years where notionally to allow authors to get the revenues that they missed out on due to two world wars.

        The real reason was the German state wished to retain copyright on "Mein Kampf" so they could keep it banned.

        It is hard to imagine that anyone could muster legislative support these days to extend copyright further.

    • Maybe we'll get incredibly lucky and Trump will refuse to pass it into law because he hates the big media conglomerates so much. I don't see the Republicans in general being too cozy with Hollywood even if they do like big business so it's pretty unlikely that they can buy enough support for it.
  • 0.01% (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 29, 2018 @12:21PM (#56523799)
    Only 0.01% of the population born in 1923 or before are still alive. For 99.99% of the US public in 1923, the copyrights granted were unlimited.
  • One that cannot be taken down by any arbitrary authority. Then we won't have to worry how long the damn copyright lasts. This is just one of the social problems we have that only technology can solve. The goal is to tear down the walls and throw the tyrants into the abyss.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gurps_npc ( 621217 )

      The honest truth is that copyrighted works fall into four categories:

      1) Massive mega hits that make their creators millions in the first 10 years, then make consistent profits every year for decade after decade. They are re-released every few years.

      2) Successful commercial work that makes profit in the first 5 years then barely get any sales after that. Most of the time you have to purchase a copy made in the first 5 years, but every couple of decades some of them get reprints - that make a reliable, sma

  • The Mouse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jebrick ( 164096 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @01:08PM (#56524045)

    I wonder if Disney can, yet again, push to protect the Mouse. That has been the key player in all the copyright pushes in the last 40 years. I think they have 5 more years (1928)

    • Re:The Mouse (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @01:50PM (#56524223) Homepage

      I wonder why Disney feels the need to.

      Even if the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons go public domain, they still have a TRADEMARK on the character Mickey Mouse, and that doesn't expire.

      You can't create a new Mickey Mouse cartoon without Disney's permission, regardless of copyright on the old films.

      Are the oldest cartoons making Disney much money these days? They're amusing, but I doubt they're selling a boatload of copies. Disney should let this go.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        http://cdas.com/court-finds-that-use-of-registered-trademark-to-identify-public-domain-cartoon-character-is-not-infringement/

        Trademarks on public domain characters are weaker.

        Not that that would stop Disney lawyers.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Uncensored_Mouse

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Being out of copyright allows for third parties to remaster them and re-release them instead of Disney. So yes while Snow White(1934) or Pinoccio (194) might not be drawing in big money a 4k Re-release would certainly make a bit of cash. Not to mention app developers being able to put together some quality games with all the assets. That is what the companies are scared of, losing control to more agile companies.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      I am sure they can with all the money they have. :/

    • Disney may have already seen the writing on the wall. Rather than try to protect old material they've been frantically re-making everything in live-action:

      • 2014 - Maleficient (Sleeping Beauty)
      • 2015 - Cinderella
      • 2016 - The Jungle Book
      • 2017 - Beauty and the Beast
      • 2018 - Christopher Robin (Winnie the Pooh)
      • 2019 - Dumbo
      • 2019 - Aladdin
      • 2019 - Lion King
      • 2020 - Mulan

      And more to come.

    • The bigger deal has been the history of Winnie the Pooh. Although Mickey is obviously the 'face' of Disney, those who control the IP of the Milne books (not the Milne family for some time now) have continually lobbied Washington DC lawmakers for extended copyright over Winnie the Pooh. Once that lapses, Disney, Inc. will no longer need to pay Milne, Inc. for those rights and a large revenue stream becomes even larger. I dare say that at that point, the Pooh merch revenue stream should easily rival the Micke
      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        The Pooh merchandising revenue stream is actually orders of magnitude larger than the Mouse which is pretty small as a percentage. At one point it apparently accounted for 90% of all Disney's merchandising revenues in their stores. The main thing is that the Pooh has enduring worldwide timeless appeal.

  • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @02:25PM (#56524439)

    The 10 Commandments (1923) is different than The 10 Commandments (1956). Both were directed and produced by Cecil B. DeMille, but the former is a silent film that is set to be released into the public domain, whereas the latter stars Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner and is the one with which I suspect most of us here are more familiar.

    • Yeah, as soon as I read the summary, I hit IMDB to check it out, because I had no idea DeMille directed another version.

  • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @04:17PM (#56524931)

    Article I Section 8. Clause 8 â" Patent and Copyright Clause of the Constitution. [The Congress shall have power] âoeTo 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.â

    In order to maximize "progress of science and useful arts", the Constitutional requirement of "limited times" must be optimized. Note that that progress applies to the nation as a whole, and not to the authors and inventors.

    Zero time obviously has no benefit. Infinite time may have some benefit, but less than something between nothing and perpetuity.

    So what is the optimum? I contend that it is something considerably shorter than the current duration. And that just because other regimes choose poorly, does not mean the US has to follow suit. Congress should show some evidence before legislating.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The evils of a long copyright duration have long been discussed [asu.edu] going back to at least 1841:

      * A Speech delivered in the House of Commons on the 5th of February, 1841, by Thomas Babington Macaulay
      * A Speech delivered in a Committee of the House of Commons on the 6th of April, 1842, by Thomas Babington Macaulay

      Though, Sir, it is in some sense agreeable to approach a subject with which political animosities have nothing to do, I offer myself to your notice with some reluctance. It is painful to me to take a co

      • >The law of nature, according to them, gives to every man a sacred and indefeasible property in his own ideas, in the fruits of his own reason and imagination.

        It seems odd to me that any well-reasoned man could truly believe this - without government (the law of man) to impose a monopoly, there is nothing to stop one man from copying the ideas of another, except that he never share them in the first place. That is the law of nature.

        That was, I thought, the original reasoning behind technology patents: th

    • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday April 29, 2018 @11:16PM (#56526485)

      >Zero time obviously has no benefit.

      Are you sure? Do you truly believe that no art would be produced, nor science or technology developed, without the promise of ongoing economic reward for your work? Most of human history would suggest otherwise. And the benefit of zero protections is that derivative works may be developed immediately without any hindrance by the original creator.

      Since the adoption of patents for example, several countries have at various times decided to remove them - and generally enjoyed a technological renaissance until being pressured into re-adopting them. Now - how much of that renaissance was, like Hollywood's early years, due to wholesale copying of other people's work can be debated - but there was obviously value to be had in completely removing the monopolies.

      • Do you truly believe that no art would be produced, nor science or technology developed, without the promise of ongoing economic reward for your work?

        Of course not. It is also obvious that without some sort of expected return, some of the spectacles (e.g. Infinity War) that have been created would not have been. This black and white thinking needs to be used for contrasts to gain understanding of the limits, it is not useful as the sole process in making a decision.

        • Do you truly believe that no art would be produced, nor science or technology developed, without the promise of ongoing economic reward for your work?

          Of course not. It is also obvious that without some sort of expected return, some of the spectacles (e.g. Infinity War) that have been created would not have been. This black and white thinking needs to be used for contrasts to gain understanding of the limits, it is not useful as the sole process in making a decision.

          It is, however, a useful and important question to ask, especially when trying to work out what the 'sweet spot' is, since you have to actually start discussing things like the cost involved in creating the intellectual property in more concrete terms.

        • Red Hat made a billion dollars giving away software. Hmmm.

        • I was only pointing out that there ARE in fact benefits to a no-monopolies situation, and that it is not an obviously minimum-benefit point on the continuum that their phrasing seems to imply. And that realization is important to a well-informed discussion.

          Yes, the great spectacles would probably be less common without some protection, but incremental improvements would probably be much more common. Which contributes more to the overall advancement is a non-obvious topic for discussion as we attempt to op

  • each New Year's Day will unleash a full year's worth of works published 95 years earlier.

    I get what you're saying, but that had to be hard to put down with a straight face.

    The fact that this IS kinda shocking is... man, this whole fucking this is just so obviously a farce.

  • Copyrights should be 25 yrs + exponential payments after that every decade.
    The goal is to protect the author so she may get a return on the investment, not have income forever.

    There are lots of works that aren't worth maintaining copyright over after 25 yrs, yet those are still locked up. There needs to be an automatic method for them to be freed, sooner, unless payment is made. Say $100K for years 26-35, then $1M for years 36-45, then $10M for 46-55 after release. Keep adding a zero every 10 yrs with a c

  • The many extensions of copyright are due in large part to the lobbying of companies such as Disney, who were desperately afraid that Mickey would pass into the public domain and all those Chinese companies would be able to make legal Mickey Mouse hats and shirts. The music business is the same. George Gershwin's grandchildren are still going to lunch on the royalties from all of his music, whose copyright the Gershwin Foundation's lawyers enforce vigorously. The protection of copyright is no longer just

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990

Working...