Public Works

The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law has an interesting article about why there are no authors/books entering the public domain this year in the United States. In short:

Once again, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year. Or next year, or the year after that. In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019….When the first copyright law was written in the United States, copyright lasted 14 years, renewable for another 14 years if the author wished. Jefferson or Madison could look at the books written by their contemporaries and confidently expect them to be in the public domain within a decade or two. Now? In the United States, as in most of the world, copyright lasts for the author’s lifetime, plus another 70 years. And we’ve changed the law so that every creative work is automatically copyrighted, even if the author does nothing. What do these laws mean to you? As you can read in our analysis here, they impose great (and in many cases entirely unnecessary) costs on creativity, on libraries and archives, on education and on scholarship. More broadly, they impose costs on our entire collective culture.”

The idea isn’t to destroy copyright entirely; that would be detrimental to working authors. But why shouldn’t Virginia Woolf’s works be available this year, or Rebel Without a Cause? If artistic works such as these could be more easily used in schools and libraries and in other works of art, isn’t that a good thing? I’d be okay with waiting until an artist/author/copyright owner is dead, but 70 years after? There needs to be some compromise.

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