Do Book Copyrights Hide Them From View?

Friday, April 20, 2012


Copyright protections for books have had the effect of driving the vast majority of them from public view.  Meanwhile books in the public domain are surprisingly visible in places like  So says law professor Paul Heald, who’s been testing this idea. He explains to Bob the negative effects of copyright extension and the not-so-threatening reality of the public domain.


Paul Heald

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Bob Garfield

Comments [3]

John Benoit from Indianola, Iowa

I do quite a bit of research into popular American culture of the 1910s and 1920s. For books, sheet music, and other items published before 1923, there is an ever-increasing and easily searchable abundance of materia available on-line. For everything published after 1923, I must rely upon serendipitous finds that I make at antique stores and used book fairs. The excessively long span of copyright protection does not serve scholars and enthusiasts like me nor does it serve the long dead authors and composers whose still delightful, though no longer commercially viable, works we would like to freely share and promote.

I am sure Disney and other publishers will want to extend the term of copyright once again when old works finally start to enter the public domain once again in 2019. I think that if these publishers still have commercially viable properties that they don't want entering the public domain, then they should have to pay the public for the right to extend the copyright on those properties. The money raised could be used to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. This would benefit the public and posterity in two ways: 1) the vast majority of no longer commercially profitable works could enter the public domain where they would find new audiences; and 2) the NEA would have more money than it has ever had to support writers, artists, and composers who will create new work for the enjoyment of future generations.

Apr. 26 2012 08:29 AM

I hate two things especially about the new copyright law with respect to books. First, the idea that a writer wouldn't write a book unless she, her children and her grandchildren would benefit from the royalties (75 years fom date of death) is absurd. To say nothing of the fact that relatively few books earn that much in royalities in any case.

Second, the copyright protection appears to extend even to works which are no longer in print, no longer available from any "legitimate" source.

This is true too of music and DVDs. Recently I tried to buy some of both only to discover that the works in question cannot be bought. Period. From any source. Yet it would be illegal for me to download them from, say, a file-sharing web site. This is ridiculous.

Apr. 22 2012 05:54 PM
jim allan from Austin, TX

A very interesting story. It reminded me of another story by Spider Robinson, "Melancholy Elephants", all about copyright and the senator who must cast the deciding vote. It provides some compelling arguments against the Micky Mouse Copyright Act we exist under today. Let us celebrate Pyramus and Thisbe, Romeo and Juliette, West Side Story, etc. the change in setting, costumes...

By the way the author has placed Melancholy Elephants in the PUBLIC DOMAIN!

Apr. 22 2012 11:09 AM

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