Our Unfortunate Annual Tradition: A Look At What Should Have Entered The Public Domain, But Didn't
from the this-is-cultural-theft dept
The analysis goes on to cover important scientific work, locked up behind a paywall and not available to the public. And it also notes that many works from 1988 would also be available for the public domain, under the old system of having a copyright for 28 years, and then being renewed for 28 years. Many, many copyright holders in the past chose not to renew after 28 years, so many works from 1988 would likely have entered the public domain.
What books would be entering the public domain if we had the pre-1978 copyright laws? You might recognize some of the titles below.
- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
- John Updike, Rabbit, Run
- Joy Adamson, Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
- Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty
- Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval: The Age of Roosevelt
- Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
- Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins
- John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique
Consider the films and television shows from 1960 that would have become available this year. Fans could share clips with friends or incorporate them into homages. Local theaters could show the full features. Libraries and archivists would be free to digitize and preserve them. Here are a few of the movies that we won’t see in the public domain for another 39 years.
- The Time Machine
- The Apartment
- Inherit the Wind
- The Magnificent Seven
- Ocean’s 11
- The Alamo
- The Andy Griffith Show (first episodes)
- The Flintstones (first episodes)
What 1960 music could you have used without fear of a lawsuit? If you wanted to find guitar tabs or sheet music and freely use some of the great music from this year, January 1, 2017 would have been a rocking day for you under earlier copyright laws. Elvis Presley’s hit song It’s Now or Never (Wally Gold, Aaron Schroeder) would be available. So would Only the lonely (know the way I feel) (Roy Orbison, Joe Melson), Save the Last Dance for Me (Mort Shuman, Jerome Pomus), and Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (Paul J. Vance, Lee Pockriss). Your school would be free to stage public performances of the songs from the musical Camelot (Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe). Or you could set a video to Harry Belafonte’s Grizzly Bear (Harry Belafonte, Robert DeCormier, Milt Okun) from Swing Dat Hammer. Today, these musical works remain copyrighted until 2056.
Of course, some countries are at least marginally better off. Another site, the Public Domain Review highlights a bunch of works that are now in the public domain in other countries. For countries that have a "life + 70" system, that means any creator who passed away in 1946 -- including Gertrude Stein, H. G. Wells, W. C. Fields and Alfred Stieglitz. For countries that have a "life + 50" system, it means the works of any creator who passed away in 1966 -- which includes Walt Disney, Buster Keaton, Evelyn Waugh and Lenny Bruce.
But, of course, none of that applies to the US. Even though we're now under a "life + 70" system, for any work published between 1923 and 1977 (and where the 28-year renewal wasn't missed), our lovely Congress decided to ignore the "life + nonsense" and just slap a 95-year term on the work (it was originally 75 years, but, of course, the wonders of retroactive copyright term extension made it 95 years). And that's why we never see any new works entering the public domain in the US and haven't for years.
For those who actually understand and recognize the importance and value of a thriving public domain, this continues to be both a farce and an insult to culture.