Barely Any U.S. Culture will Enter the Public Domain this Year

Friday, January 25, 2013


Copyright protections were never supposed to last forever. Copyright was originally designed to protect creators long enough so that they could profit from their work, after which time that work would enter the public domain. However, changes to copyright law have made it so that copyright protections in the US generally last for 70 years after the creator's death. Duke Law School Professor James Boyle runs the Center for the Study of the Public Domain. He tells Bob about all the works that would have entered the public domain this year, but didn't. 

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James Boyle

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [5]

Joyce Wilson

"If there is no one around to take action against those who copy, there can be no consequences."

^ That doesn't seem consistent with what happened to Aaron Swartz. My understanding is JSTOR didn't push for prosecution, but somehow Swartz was still confronted with possible decades of prison-time for copying their documents.

Feb. 04 2013 06:17 PM
Rory Johnston from Hollywood

You tell us we are forbidden to copy orphan works but do not tell us who could do the forbidding. If there is no one around to take action against those who copy, there can be no consequences.

I see that some libraries are hiding their older works away in fear that if someone copies them a copyright claimant might appear and sue the library. Americans have a well-established solution to such unlikely problems: insurance, as in title insurance for home buyers.

Jan. 30 2013 02:53 PM
Joyce Wilson

I think I see now. Works written _now_ are under the life+70 rule, but the life+70 rule only applies to works created after 1977. Generally, works published from 1923 through 1977 retain copyright for 95 years, so that explains why nothing would be entering the public domain this year (or until 2019, unless the rules change on us again). Or so I gathered from this Project Gutenberg page on copyright:

I wish the OTM segment had addressed this 95-year rule for 1923-1977 works, which seems to be what's really preventing the public domain from growing at the moment. Maybe it could be touched on in a future segment?

Jan. 28 2013 10:04 AM
Joyce Wilson

Aren't there post-1922 works by authors who died in 1942 entering the (U.S.) public domain this year? Or does the life+70 rule not yet apply?

Jan. 27 2013 08:08 PM
Eric Hamell from Philadelphia, PA

The passive participle of "copyright" is "copyrighted," not "copywritten." "Copywritten" would be the passive participle of the nonexistent word "copywrite."

Jan. 27 2013 06:17 PM

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