By Greg X. Graves
Posted January 5, 2012
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I had tweeted about this Center for the Study of the Public Domain article on what might have entered the public domain in 2012 if copyright law had not been altered by the 1976 Copyright Act. The act extended the lifetime of copyright on a given work from a maximum of fifty-six years to a maximum of author’s life plus fifty years.
Then in 1998 another act extended the copyright protection to the author’s life plus seventy years.
These protections privilege many media conglomerates and estates while disrupting derivative, valuable cultural work. The problem is, of course, that the latter is not easily demonstrable. I can’t prove that if The Seven Year Itch had entered the public domain this year that next year its logical sequel, Eight Minutes then an Itch, would be up for an Academy Award. Nor can I muster any evidence to support my assertion that we’re culturally poorer for never having read Elves Staring Wistfully into Mist, the best-selling sequel to the Return of the King.
The only thing that I can prove is that at least one Real Live Author thinks that the current copyright terms are too long, don’t do me much good, but sure screw over the culture that my children and grandchildren will be living and creating.
If you are a publishing house that is so scared of material over fifty years old (under the original fifty-six year copyright term) appearing on Project Gutenberg, maybe you should pull some resources away from re-issuing Moby Dick ad infinitum and try signing a new author?
And, at least as I understand it, even after the author has transferred copyright to a publisher, the term is still seventy years after the author’s death.
Publishers should be lobbying for better health care.
Imagine if I, Greg, dropped dead tomorrow of an emu blasting me in the chest with one of its evil emu feet. I’m young. My estate (what a terrible word to call your wife) will need the cash. Especially because my will has several provisions that include diamond statues of me being dusted daily with a fresh piece of golden fleece. Fifty-six years is still fifty-six years. Those statues would shine until 2068 under the older rule.
That’s plenty of time. Because in 2055 the statues will be harvested to supply focusing lenses for lasers in order to repel the lizardmen from Pluto.
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