The public domain hiatus continues

atlasshruggedSo, another new year, and another collection of works that should have but won’t pass into the public domain thanks to Sonny Bono’s Copyright Term Extension Act. GigaOm has a good roundup of titles, drawing on the report from Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. They include some fairly popular titles, such as the movies Bridge on the River Kwai, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and 3:10 to Yuma, and the books How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat.

One noteworthy title is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which seems ironic to me given that Objectivists would probably sniff at the idea of ever-lengthening government copyright protection.

But really, the noteworthy titles are the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands upon thousands of other titles that would interest far fewer people that were also frozen out. For example, nine Arsène Lupin novels by Maurice Leblanc published from 1924 to 1939 would have entered the public domain, including The Countess of Cagliostro and The Revenge of the Countess of Cagliostro, inspirations for the Hayao Miyazaki anime Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro. And there are plenty of specialty titles that would be of interest to fewer people than that, who would nonetheless be able to find them via the Internet were they made public.

Five years to go before more titles theoretically enter the public domain again. I say theoretically, because I expect Disney to again enter the fray to try to carve out an extension of its protection on Mickey Mouse before too long. If they win again, who knows if we will ever see anything come to the public domain in our lifetimes?

4 Comments on The public domain hiatus continues

  1. Perhaps some clever entrepreneur will come up with a scheme to get the lesser known titles digitalized so that they can become available again at some price. Without such a scheme, one must hunt down a paper copy which might not be very easy at all.

  2. The best solution would be the ability to pay to extend per work. That way Disney can pony up for Mickey Mouse every twenty years and other works can slide into Public Domain if nobody wants to spend the cash to keep them private.

  3. I’m sure glad Congress retro-actively extended copyright in 1992 in order to incentivize an author that died 1982 to create more works. I’m sure that next Ayn Rand novel is just around the corner.

    I was going to add that, on the non-sarcastic positive side, Disney was forced to craft an original feature this year with Frozen, but, looking at the Wikipedia page, it appears to be based on another public domain work. Oh, well.

  4. Another solution is to move to Canada (jk). Author’s who expired in 1963 entered PD on Thursday include Sylvia Plath, Aldous Huxley, CS Lewis, ; poets William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Louis MacNeice, Jean Cocteau; playwright Clifford Odets; composers Francis Poulenc, Paul Hindemith; historian Edith Hamilton … etc etc

    Copyright is a sensible, progressive idea which is implemented badly. I do not see the value is protecting an author’s work decades after the author is deceased. In fact, I don’t see the need to protect works even during an author’s lifetime. Why not a fifty year rule from publication? And thirty years after the death of the author for unpublished work? The creator / publisher / distributor gets full benefit in the author’s lifetime, a grace period after the author’s death ….

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