All Of These Works Should Be In The Public Domain, But Aren't
from the depressing dept
Here's a list of famous books from 1958 that should have gone into the public domain:
- Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
- Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition
- Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French), Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn
- Simone de Beauvoir, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter)
- Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington, with illustrations by Peggy Fortnum
- Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, The Ugly American
- Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
- Agatha Christie, Ordeal by Innocence
- John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society
- Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story
- Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie Structurale (Structural Anthropology)
- Mary Renault, The King Must Die
- Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
- T.H. White, The Once and Future King
Onto a list of famous movies:
- Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, a low-budget horror/sci-fi cult hit.
- Auntie Mame, starring Rosalind Russell, Coral Browne, Roger Smith, and Peggy Cass.
- The Blob, sci-fi/horror classic starring Steve McQueen in his first leading role.
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives.
- The Defiant Ones, starring Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis, and Theodore Bikel.
- From the Earth to the Moon, starring Joseph Cotten, George Sanders, and Debra Paget.
- Gigi, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, and Louis Jourdan. The film garnered 9 Academy Awards.
- Mon Oncle, writer/director Jacques Tati reprises his comic alter-ego, Monsieur Hulot, and wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
- Some Came Running, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine.
- South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, directed by Joshua Logan, starring Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor.
- Touch of Evil, written and directed by Orson Welles, starring Welles, Charlton Heston, and Janet Leigh.
- The Young Lions, starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin.
- Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes.
- "Johnny B. Goode" (Chuck Berry)
- "Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)" (Domenico Modugno, F. Migliacci, Mitchell Parish (English translation))
- "Yakety Yak" (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller)
- "Chantilly Lace" (Big Bopper)
- "Purple People Eater" (Sheb Wooley)
As the article notes, all of those works would have been in the public domain if not for the Copyright Act of 1976. Even though the creators of all those works knew -- without a doubt -- that those works would be in the public domain today, they are not. I have yet to see anyone come up with a credible explanation for why that is.
1958 was another noteworthy year for science: the US launched the Explorer 1, its first successful satellite, which confirmed the existence of the Van Allen radiation belt. The first integrated circuit was demonstrated. There were groundbreaking publications in the fields of laser technology and cloning.
If you follow the link from “cloning” above (and you do not have a subscription or institutional access), you will see that this 1958 article is behind a paywall. You can purchase it for $32. A distressing number of scientific articles from 1958 remain behind paywalls, including those in major journals such as Science and JAMA. You can’t read these articles unless you pay or subscribe. And the institutional access that many top scientists enjoy is not guaranteed—even institutions such as Harvard have considered canceling their subscriptions because they could no longer afford the escalating prices of major journal subscriptions.
It’s remarkable to find scientific research from 1958 hidden behind publisher paywalls. Thankfully, some publishers have made older articles available in full online, so that you can read them, even though it may still be illegal to copy and distribute them. In addition, some older articles have been made available on third party websites, but this is not a stable solution for providing reliable access to science. Third party postings can be difficult to find or taken down, links can get broken, and would-be posters may be deterred by the risk of a lawsuit. Under the pre-1978 copyright term, all of this history would be free to scholars, students, and enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, over at Vox, Tim Lee came up with a related, but different, depressing list of works that should be in the public domain. This one looks at works that also got the gift of the 1976 Act, but then still should be in the public domain today... except for the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) -- sometimes called the Sonny Bono Act. These are works that (even after the 1976 Act) would have been released 75 years ago, which was the limit for "corporate" authored works, but which got extended to 95 years. In other words, these are works that have dodged the public domain "bullet" twice thanks to Congress. There are some impressive works here -- including The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Also, the very first Batman comic, meaning that the basic character of Batman would have gone into the public domain.
Instead, they're all locked up for many more years, and many people alive in the US today have never had an old work moved into the public domain in their lifetimes.