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No books for you: U.S. starves public domain for another year

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A new year means a new batch of copyrights expire, and works like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Bell Jar become as free to use as Charles Dickens or Shakespeare. Unless you happen to live in the United States, that is.

As Duke University notes in its mournful annual report, no books will enter the public domain this year, or next year, or the year after that.  This situation is the result of Congress’s decision to add another 20 years of protection for long dead authors, which means that no new works will become public until 2019.

As a related Duke article points out, famous 1957 titles like On the Road, Atlas Shrugged and The Cat in the Hat would have entered the public domain if the US had retained its pre-1978 copyright system, which granted protection for up to 56 years. Canada, meanwhile, has stuck with a “life of the author plus 50 years” rule, which means the public there — starting January 1 — can print or perform works by C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath (both died in 1963)

So why has the public domain dried up in the United States? The technical answer is a 1998 law that increased copyright terms to 95 years or more for works published after 1923 (you can get specifics from this excellent chart). But the more subtle answer is that the US government succumbed to lobbying efforts by Walt Disney and other powerful content owners that demanded ever-longer monopolies for their intellectual property.

The result is a copyright system that’s impossible to defend on economic or policy grounds. While copyright itself is a good thing — it helps artists and writers make a living — the repeated posthumous term extensions make no sense. No author, including Ayn Rand and Dr. Seuss, has made a decision on whether or not to write based on what will happen decades after they’re dead.

And while the extended copyright terms benefit the likes of the Walt Disney corporation (and the grasping heirs of Martin Luther King), they deprive everyone else of raw material for new stories and chill creativity with the threat of lawsuits.

If you prefer to look for bright spots, you can find them: courts in 2013 confirmed that the bulk of Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain, and a fair use decision on Google(s goog) Books increased our access to knowledge. But last year also brought bad news too as the Supreme Court allowed Congress to remove even more works — including Pippi Longstocking and Peter and the Wolf — from the public domain, and legal scholars fretted that Disney will obtain another 20 years protection for Mickey Mouse.

As the debate rumbles on, you can reflect on some of the other works that would have entered the public domain. Via Duke:

108 Responses to “No books for you: U.S. starves public domain for another year”

  1. Awe, you cheap people will actually have to spend $10 to purchase a book. Awe, how can anybody afford to actually pay for something that they value? The average car payment is something like $300+ a month and people can’t even spend $10 to purchase a book. Do a monthly written budget and you’ll be able to afford it.

  2. Copyright makes no sense, the content of a book has no value as raw data. I buy paper books when I really want a great reading experience, and after I bought it I can either give it to someone for free or even resell it without the author even know about it.

    Copyright gives minimum benefit to authors and maximum restrictions to the public.

    An MP3 has no real value. A printed record with a cover does.

    A PDF has no real value, a paper book does.

    An iTunes song has no real value, but the iTunes download experience does.

    Not sure if you follow, but believe me, authors, songwritters, artists, they don’t write stuff for money, they write it because they need to write it.

    You are free to download and copy any of my songs on

    • ‘iTunes download experience”? Thats not even a product. iTunes have no value period, because you bought the license and not the song. If you want to own a song, go buy the CD and rip it to your computer, import to iTunes or Android, etc.

  3. humtake

    If the creator is dead or the entity that created it out of business, then sure, the works should be public domain. If the person isn’t dead or the company still exists, nobody has any right to the work but that person/entity. Not sure why that has to be stated.

  4. Harrison Lansing

    For those still following this conversation and who are in favor of existing or expanded protections, and since we’re not arguing before a court or Congress, allow me to pose the following:

    If your position is philosophically sound now, doesn’t that mean it would have always been philosophically sound? Again, I don’t want to debate legal niceties, let’s talk about it philosophically.

    If your answer is yes, then…philosophically…you would be in favor of retroactively granting those same protections to pre-existing works with no exclusions or time limits. Think about it. If the same protections you want kept, or extended, or even in some cases made perpetual, existed centuries ago imagine the body of work in literature and music that would simply cease to exist because it violated the copyrights of the works which were springboards for works of the modern era.

    Please actually think about it, is your answer “no, even from a purely philosophical perspective the laws shouldn’t be retroactively applied, we got ours so we’re keeping it and the hypocrisy of that position doesn’t matter”? Or does this at least make you stop and think?

    • Joshua Bodwell

      Harrison, While I appreciate what you’re getting at here, it simply isn’t true. Rather than literature or music “ceas(ing) to exist,” someone would likely have just simply paid for the right to use the copyrighted material rather than using it for free. Big deal. If the price of creating a hit hip hop song is paying for some drum beat you’ve sampled, who cares? The music still gets made…no cultural or intellectual freedom would have been chilled.

      • Harrison Lansing

        Joshua, do you really suppose West Side Story would exist if the heirs and assigns of Shakespeare exercised their rights? Or Huck Finn if it could not have been published due to Homer’s rights? All the current music based on 12-bar blues? You genuinely assert that all of these artists would have found the means to shell out rights money to the originators?

        You are asserting that every creative artist has and has had the deep pockets to pay for the right to use someone else’s work when in fact that’s simply not true and simple research about the financial conditions many creatives live under…which, by the way, was the original basis for the limited copyright first granted by the US…will demonstrate that. Either that or you attribute some benevolence on the part of the original holder which is at pretty fundamental odds with the Disneys of the world fiercely protecting their right to gain from works that they took from the public domain and now “own”.

        • Joshua Bodwell

          Yes, I do believe that West Side Story would exist. The producers would have simply said, “Hey, we’ve got this idea that’ll be a smash hit: we’re gonna update some Billy Shakespeare so the kids’ll like it!” And then they would have paid some fee to the copyright holder and produced their smash hit. Whoopeedo.

          • Harrison Lansing

            And you conveniently ignore the rest of the argument to focus on that one piece of deep-moneyed show producers licensing a work. My fault, an example too easily cited as a way to avoid the larger issue.

            Copyright was not invented to provide incentive to anyone but creators, and then for a strictly limited time in order to…as the authors of the law knew full well…put the work into the public domain from whence it originally came after the author had reaped some reward for his work.

  5. If I was a published author and I had written something, even after my death, I’d be angry should someone take my work, bastardize it with their own spin, and then claim it was their own. What about leaving the work to stand on its own and having the respect to not meddle with it? (Dracula: The Un-Dead, that piece of garbage comes to mind)
    This is plagiarism. If you aren’t creative enough to come up with something new of your own and feel it necessary to delve into the public domain to turn out a buck, then you deserve the copyright laws to thwart you.

    • Harrison Lansing

      RV, tell me about a genuinely original body of work you’ve read or created. Is the story really new or has it been told before and now has simply been covered with a fresh coat of creative paint?

      How far back are you willing to go, philosophically, and extend those rights to works that either never enjoyed a copyright or whose copyright ran out and were heavily borrowed from or re-told by people currently (‘people’ encompassing their heirs and assigns as well as the creators) enjoying the fruits they have plucked by standing on the shoulders of others? How many of today’s protected works do you suppose would exist?

  6. Jeff, not only was sharing the Duke list of works that could have come into the public domain a helpful reminder about the state of copyright law in the US, but your defense of public domain has been cogent and articulate. Joshua, like many association reps I’ve encountered over the years gets strident very quickly. I’ve always disliked the fact that big corporations hide behind the face of authors and artists in making the argument for stronger copyright laws. In fact, most of the money goes to the corporations and not to the creators. Of course, creators should have the opportunity to sell their works to companies that are better equipped to exploit them, but we should then make a point to remember that it’s the corporations that are benefitting most. We should also not forget that the MPAA and RIAA and publisher associations are quietly coordinating with lobbyists in other countries regarding copyright law.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Pam. You raise another good point in the debate over copyright administration — the role of middlemen like the MPAA, the RIAA and publishers associations. Too often they abdicate their roles as advocates for the arts and become instead ideological bureaucracies that do more to enrich themselves than the artists they nominally support.

  7. Harrison Lansing

    Jeff, Spider Robinson said it in 1983, and said it well; perennial copyrights…or moves to make them effectively perennial by handing them down and extending their duration…will ultimately cause significant damage to the creative arts. It’s not supposition, it’s fact.

    I invite those on the other side of this particular fence to actually read what this author had to say on the matter.

  8. Every time the US “reforms” its IP laws, they actually get worse! This seems to be because the only representatives given a say are large corporations. The various committees don’t actually talk to the individuals who write or invent things, which are the actual source of innovation, and neither do they talk to the consumer, who needs to pay for this foolishness. Instead of fixing a broken system, all moves tend toward breaking it even further. Eventually, the rest of the world will simply give up on US IP laws and simply go around them. You cannot force people to accept something that is, undeniably, against their interest. Corporations are not people. Corporations do not innovate. People do.

    • Harrison Lansing

      Chuck, completely disingenuous and you either know it or should educate yourself on the difference between no copyrights and no-limit copyrights (or effectively no-limit as they are extended and handed down). Hyperbole is only your friend if you use it in a way that at least loosely parallels reality.

      • Joshua Bodwell

        Of course Chuck’s message is frustrated, tongue-in-cheek hyperbole…but it makes the larger point: why don’t we decide for the author of this piece how long a piece on the internet is protected by copyright, rather than letting him decide? That seems fair, right?

        • Harrison Lansing

          Joshua, it in fact does seem fair so let me pose this question to you:

          Should one nation’s decisions on copyright protection durations be applied worldwide or should the prevailing copyright laws around the world bind that one nation? The US has the most overly broad protections granted anywhere, and no one in this discussion is lobbying for ‘no protections’, so who gets to set those rules under your proposal?

          • Joshua Bodwell

            Great, Harrison. But then, why did you call Chuck’s email “completely disingenuous” and “hyperbole”? All Chuck was saying, I think, is that the author of this post had, like, 24-hours of protection (this is the era of the 24 new cycle, right?) and now his work can re-used and monetized by others. So to your question, I guess other people, anyone but the author, get to decide the rules.

  9. gotta love corporate greed… so why not starve the corporations? what is good for the goose should be just as good for the gander ya? we dont necessarily have a NEED for anything the corporations produce, we just WANT those things for our own psychological satisfaction. so why not sacrifice our WANTS just long enough until the corporations get the message that WE are the ones that keep them in business… just saying

  10. It seems like everyone here agrees that copyrights are a good thing. The argument is just how long that copyright should last, right?

    And the arguments for that length of time range from, what, a couple of decades to forever?

  11. Stephanie Hoover

    As an author making a living on book sales (and someone who wants her heirs to inherit those rights and revenue) I say BRAVO to fewer works entering the public domain.

    • Harrison Lansing

      Stephanie, if perpetual copyright (or effectively perpetual when extensions and inheritance are coupled) had been in existence in the 1500s and applied today do you really think you would be an author? Forget the 1500s, move the bar to 1800 and start there?

      Have you actually come up with original works that are in no way derivative of previous literature? There are only so many stories, so many archetypes, that can exist and while the number is large it is finite. As in music, 88 notes…finite possibility of combinations that are remotely pleasing to the human ear. Now go back to the 1700s and apply this perennial copyright and look at the music you would not have…

      I claim no originality in the above argument, I make use of Spider Robinson’s excellent words on the subject. If you’ve never read it, may I suggest you do? It’s only three pages, it won’t take you away from your work very long:

  12. Even patents are set to expire after so many years so an expiration of copyright seems in line with other ownership/rights practices.

    Also, one risk to the author of trying to retain his/her rights long after they are gone is it can cause their work to slip into oblivion. While Disney and other corporations making money off of works might be able to easily protect and license their rights, a large group of descendants is not always able to do this. So if someone wants to use the work of a long dead author and they cannot easily get the heirs to offer a license or even to find a way to legally compensate them, that person will move on to a more easily obtained work.

    While I realize someone said we cannot really compare land to copyrights, it is an experience I had with real estate that drove this home for me. There were several parcels of land in our city that were not large enough to be built upon, but that would have provided excellent strips for bike/walking trails. They were not being used for any purpose and were located between larger parcels of a different land owner. I discovered the original owner was a man who lived in our city in the early 1900s who had passed away many decades ago. These parcels were left after he had sold off those larger ones. So I looked into the city acquiring them for the purpose of walking/biking trails. But by now there were so many heirs scattered everywhere. I contacted one of them who was an attorney to see about getting the land. He said it would be so difficult just to go through what was required to get all those people to transfer those rights that it wasn’t worth it, and he even already had the locations of those people which is usually the first challenge – just locating heirs and verifying they are legitimate. The final decision was that we could more easily just work with the one owner of the larger parcel and get strips for paths from them. So now those strip parcels sit vacant and unused not even good for the heirs who hold the rights to them after only 2 or 3 generations from the original owner.

  13. Of course, since you cited famous works for impact, you missed an important secondary effect of this phenomenon.

    Those books and films may not be free, but they’re still around. You can easily access them. But any work that *isn’t* immediately hugely successful stops being profitable to publish within about five years – then *vanishes* until it comes out of copyright. How many great books from the Fifties or earlier happened to be slow-burners, or under-appreciated at the time, and as a result are now completely buried?

    I’m a writer. I also have an office job. In the latter, I don’t expect to be still getting paid for work I did ten years ago, let alone for work my grandparents did. I haven’t “copylefted” my books at the time of publication, as I do need to make money from them – but I intend to change my copyright assertion to “copyleft” for each work within 30 years of publication. I actually believe this will help sales – as my early work becomes free, and circulates more widely, more people will get to know my work and want to read the stuff they still have to pay for!

    • Joshua Bodwell

      Hey “galonga,”

      First of all: do you find it odd to disparage someone by name while hiding behind a false identity?

      Now, I’m a writer and a nonprofit director…which is to say, a lot poorer than any lawyer or record label exec I can imagine.

      Why is it greedy to support the creator being compensated? Do you think it’s greedy for someone who is rubbing their hands together thinking, “Oh boy, as soon as On the Road is in public domain, I’m gonna make some money on that!”?

  14. tommo OZ

    What do you expect, corporations and banks rule the USA to the detriment of the people in so many spheres of life, not just education.

    You live in a land and think you are free, when you are not.

    They never want to let go, so they can to screw you over.

    Authors deserve a period of copyright, but not these crass extensions for the likes of Disney are not right.

    They had their money making period, now it should be free.

    They knew the time they had when it was created.

    Copyright is far longer than a patent and the abuse of what gets a patent at times is not right either.

    Look at hemp, suppress it, take it away as competition , deny it has health properties and then let the corporations patent individual cannabinoids when Rick Simpson can show you a simple distillation process and half plus of your wasteful the health/sickness industry is gone.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg with hemp, when you wake up on this topic you might get angry and do something.

  15. Trademarks Should Be A Forever Property.

    However, Copyrights And Patents Should Be Public Domain 5 Years After The First Sale – No Exceptions, Period.

    If The ‘Creators’ Want To Continue To Squeeze The Money Cow, They Better ‘Create’ Something Else In That Time Frame.

  16. Peter Turner

    The history of copyright law and public doman should be required reading. The whole notion is intended to mimick public commons, that is land that no one owns but that anyone can use with limitations. I know that may seem tangential but think of the role of public land plays in our lives. The idea of copyright was that the creators of unique works can and should benefit from their creation, but with limits. After that, the general public should given open access to that previously copyrighted creation in exchange for the the cultural support that made the creation (and rewards) of the copyrighted material possible to begin with.

  17. Authors being protected, even the dead ones, deserve to have their authorship rights preserved for all time. Nothing is more disturbing than seeing a classic piece of literature used by less talented hack who perverts the characters to enrich themselves.

    Spoofs are rightly legal, and re-imagining stories takes place all of the time; but twisting and perverting well written originals should be subject to censor, especially when the intent is simply to shock or titillate.

    I don’t think the world needs to see the roles of good and evil reversed, at least not using the original character names. As much as I believe that ‘Wicked’ is a well written musical, the authors are saying that they couldn’t make a compelling musical without invoking the names from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It would have been better using new characters, even if it didn’t sell as many tickets.

    The world doesn’t need stories of Holmes and Watson as lovers, nor a ‘First Blood’ in which Rambo survives.

    If the authors are around to authorized the changes to their characters and their relationships, I would have nothing to say about it (like the Rambo thing); but the others can just Zark off.

  18. After reading several comments I have decided that you all are wrong. It doesn’t matter weather the copyright remains in the control of the content creators family or it’s released to the public. For the simple reason is that it is being released to the public. This is US law not international law. Sure it is a violation of the law to distribute copyrighted material in the US because the time lines have been extended but this dose not prevent others outside of the Continental US for using these works. The result of this is that revenue is literally being stolen from the public. It is unfair competition so to speak because while other are allowed to profit from these works the US is not resulting in loss of productive revenue. Money is not relevantly made by staying in the original media but is made from bridging to another media form. For example it wouldn’t be very profitable to publish a new copy of Tale of Two Cities in printed form it would however be profitable to adapt it to a movie. This I admit isn’t great example because I have watch a film adaptation of it and it was way more boring than the book. But you understand that the leap between media is where the new productivity revenue is made from an old work. The point is that people who collect paychecks, pay taxes and buy things are the ones who would partially benefit from works being made public domain. Writers have to write screen plays and actors have to act the parts and whole production crews need to be paid, distributors have to ship copies and popcorn has to be sold. All of this can come from one work being released. Now imagine all of that productivity being exported to other countries. Well the good news is you do not have to imagine it because that is exactly what is happening. The argument here is not weather is it morally right for copyrights to expire or weather the public should have the ability to use the creativity of others. because that point is moot. Copyrights do expire and the public is using the creativity of others. The question here is weather we as a country, as a society should be allowed to profit from it or not, Should we allow others to profit from it while we are not allowed to?

  19. Wow, some of the comments here are disheartening, there are two questions that seem to be popping up, sarcastically or otherwise so I thought I would share them and the answers from Duke University’s Law Department website:

    Who benefits from the public domain?

    Artists of all kinds rely on the public domain — Homer’s The Odyssey has given us Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Joyce’s Ulysses, and the Coen Brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou?, to name only a few; and the twelve bar blues influenced genres from country to jazz to soul to rock and roll. Journalists and activists use facts and symbols in the public domain to inform the public and spur debate. Hobbyists screen forgotten films and collect old recordings. Commercial publishers reprint public domain works and sell them at discounted prices. Teachers, libraries, museums, historians, archivists, and database operators use the public domain to collect, preserve, and teach us about our past. Scientific and technical research would be impossible without access to data and discoveries. Youth orchestras and church choirs perform public domain works for their communities. Read about other potential uses of the public domain on our why it matters page. The list goes on . . . chances are, you’ve used, enjoyed, and depended on the public domain as well.

    The public domain sounds really valuable, but I’m in favor of intellectual property, is there a contradiction?

    Quite the contrary. You’ll be happy to hear that the public domain is a vital, indispensable part of our intellectual property system, and the inputs in the public domain are just as important to its function as the outputs protected by intellectual property. As Judge Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals put it: “Creativity is impossible without a rich public domain. Nothing today, likely nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new: Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on the works of those who came before. Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it’s supposed to nurture.” Without the public domain, there would be little to protect with intellectual property rights — if copyright lasted long enough to lock up Shakespeare’s works, much of the literary canon would vanish; if data, theories and formulae were subject to intellectual property protection, then scientific progress would grind to a halt. So the intellectual property system needs both the incentives provided by exclusive rights and the freedoms provided by the public domain, and the key is to find the appropriate balance between them.


  20. Cliff Johnson

    Copyright allows the author and the author’s assigned heirs to control the distribution of the copyrighted property and benefit from it financially.

    What is this such a terrible thing?

    The work is still available, but the public has to pay for it as they did originally.

    Or borrow it from a library. Like the old days.

    Why must everything become free for the taking?

    • Joshua Bodwell

      Hear, hear, Cliff.

      There will be people seeking to make everything free for the taking so long as there are those who seek to profit from the creative talent of others without compensating the creator, and people like Jeff John Roberts here who think that’s swell.

      • Joshua, your last comments suggest you’re more interested in making ad hominem smears rather than engaging in a serious discussion of how to calibrate intellectual property policy. Do you care to disclose what you do for a living?

        • Joshua Bodwell

          Disclose what I do for a living? Why all the high-drama, Jeff? It was, in fact, the hyperbolic drama of this article that first cued me to the fact that it wasn’t journalism of any kind, but some weird agenda driven piece:

          “No Books for You: US Starves…”
          “…mournful annual report…”
          “…chill creativity…”

          So, to respond the question you ask (even though you’ve already Googled me and looked for yourself…which makes your question here oddly passive aggressive and, again, weighted with a high-drama it doesn’t warrant), I do a couple things for a living. I am the executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, a 38-year old organization that works to enrich the literary life and culture of Maine. I am also a former newspaper reporter and continue to write freelance journalism, though primarily for magazines not newspaper.

          So, your point in asking, Jeff? Does this somehow reveal me as an ardent supporter of writer’s rights? Ok, I guess. Though I held these beliefs long before I did what I do for a living. And that belief, to be clear, is that when an author creates a “creative product,” they deserve to not only personally benefit from it, but also decide who else gets to.

          To argue that one’s own creativity is “chilled” or in anyway stunted because another’s creative product is protected is disingenuous.

          • Joshua: I think it was fair to ask what you do given your strident positions and nasty, off-base accusations. I did Google you, but only hours after I left my question in the comments; I was curious if you were a lobbyist. I was disappointed to find out you are a writer too — people like you who wrap up absurd economic and legal arguments in the cloak of protecting authors simply muddy an important debate about culture and intellectual freedom.

            • Joshua Bodwell


              A lobbyist for what? Authors and author’s rights?
              Don’t wrap your slanted piece in the cloak of protecting “culture and intellectual freedom.” On the Road (to name a single book from your list) not entering the public domain has zero negative impact on our “culture and intellectual freedom.”

    • Should Bernstein pay Shakespeare’s estate for stealing Romeo and Juliet as the idea for West Side Story, might as well go after Grease while we’re at it. I’m sure if we trawled through Brian Wilson’s works we could find enough similarities to suggest it was all copied from great american composers (Bernstein himself suggested that is what made Wilson’s work so good). We have always retold stories and each generation has made the arts their own, through modification and copying (look at Warhol), but that will no longer happen. Art will become the preserve of our ancestors, our children will have no room for creativity without copyright infringement. It spells the end of art, and ultimately culture.

  21. Joe Cusack

    Shall I conclude from this that Senator Ted Cruz’ public performance of “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor was an illegal copyright violation if he did not obtain prior approval from the owner? He may have,

    • The reading of Green Eggs and Ham by Sen. Cruz would have been violating the copyright of the author if he were performing for compensation. However that would be quite a fine point if brought to trial. If he were performing the reading for compensation would the compensation have been for the content of what was read or would it have been for the performance of the reading? Both sides could be argued but I think the Green Eggs and Ham side would loose because of the works a availability it’s would difficult to make the case the the audience paid solely for the content of the book. This is like asking which is the more influential aspect of a movie the Director or the actor. But since Sen. Cruz was not performing the reading for the purposes of profit than I would think your point is moot.

  22. Adam J Foutz

    I was trying to understand what the big deal was, but you seemed to clarify that question when answering others. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to look into that law of 1978. As I’ve been interested in getting my works copyrighted and wondering if it was even necessary these days. Perhaps you could provide some facts and resources?

    Thank you,


    • Thanks for the kind words, Adam.. There’s many great resources out there to learn about copyright, but to get a hang of the basics, I would check out the FAQ’s at Stanford’s Copyright and Fair Use center:

      For the larger philosophic issues, I highly recommend Larry Lessig’s book Remix or Bill Patry’s “How to Fix Copyright” .. Both are giants in the field and write in a lively, readable style

    • Kieran Maynard


      As Jeff said in a comment above, “Thanks to the 1978 law, ANY work is copyrighted from the moment of creation, even old napkin doodles.” It isn’t necessary to “get” a copyright. Anything you write has copyright instantly.


      • yes he is correct there is no need to “get” a copyright because the copyright is not a document, it is the work itself. Before the widespread use of computers in which all files are tagged with a creation time-stamp there was the trick of mailing the copy written material to yourself and leaving the envelope sealed thus providing evidence of the time of creation via the post mark. however since most work is originated from a computer now there is no need for such precautions.

        • You own the copyright from the moment of creation, but defending successfully it in court is another matter entirely. Unsealed envelopes can be mailed to oneself and then stuffed and sealed with stolen content later. Time stamps on digital files can be forged. None of those techniques ever have held up in a court of law, or ever will. Additionally, copyright law in the U.S. specifically allows you to collect damages for copyright infringement only if the copyright has been registered. If you think your original work may be worth money, the only sensible thing to do is register the copyright.

  23. Atlas Shrugged is on this list, that is hilarious!!! Considering the whole book is about a bunch of parasites who rob working creative people of their production based on societies “needs”

    Maybe we should just ban authors from writing and make all books free, after all it is my right to read right. We already have enough books, why make any more.

    • “Considering the whole book is about a bunch of parasites who rob working creative people of their production based on societies “needs””

      What do you think Rand would think about a bunch of greedy publishers milking her works for money she will never see and her heirs living off of money they only earned by being born a son or daughter of Rand, never striking out to blaze their own path?

    • Joshua Bodwell

      “counter-attack”! Ha, you’re hilarious, Rob.

      You can see the soundness in protecting the long-dead man who trademarked the Coca-Cola logo, but affording the heirs of, say, Dr. Seuss the same rights escapes you?

      • The original author made that person’s money. That person left it and the immediate royalties to people that person knew and loved. Maybe one more generation. About now, the people parasitizing off the long-dead author’s work just know that person as the name on a check. Time to let the world have it. The third generation can write books of their own to make money.

        Glad you’re so easy to amuse.

    • desafran

      I have long preached that the current copyright law is unfair to scholars, teachers, libraries, and librarians. Sometimes it is impossible to determine if an orphan work is still protected by copyright or who even cares. Works that no one has made an effort to register the copyright or make a proper notice in the work, should pass into the public after a set period after publication without the need to consult about the lifetime of the creator.

  24. A question that must be posed to Mr. Roberts: How would Jailhouse Rock or 3:10 To Yuma being in the public domain provide new raw material? How would releasing the copyrights to How The Grinch Stole Christmas “thaw” creativity rather than chill it?

    Do we really want airwaves teeming with more Elvis remakes? And existing copyrights don’t seem to be stopping Hollywood from remaking classic movies.

    • Dave, I agree that we probably have enough Elvis and that Hollywood is still remaking classic movies. But the issue is a bit more subtle than that.

      It might be helpful to think of how groups like Led Zepplin drew on the work of early bluesman, or how Walt Disney appropriated stories (the Little Mermaid, Snow White, etc) by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm to make new movies. If current copyright rules had been in place in the mid-20th century, a lot of this stuff wouldn’t get made in the first place.

      And in regard to the “chill” question, the problem is hyper-active lawyers employed by studios and record companies who threaten to sue anyone who comes near the “work” of their clients.

      • Joshua Bodwell

        This entire “chilling” idea is a bit disingenuous.

        In the late 1980s and early 1990s there were many lawsuits around so-called “sampling” in rap music. Boundaries were created. One could not simply take whole-sale the drum beat from another musician and rap over it without compensating the creator of that drum beat.

        So, did that “chill” the creation of rap music? Or did rap music explode in the late 1990s and become the highest earning genre of music at the time?

        PS: when you write something like “…who threaten to sue anyone who comes near the “work” of their clients.” and put the word work in quotes like that, it seem kind of insulting to the culturally significant WORKS OF ART you’ve listed above, such as On the Road.

        • Joshua, I’m afraid you’re just wrong on this one. The “sampling” lawsuits of the 1990’s had a serious effect on hip-hop (see Tim Wu’s “The Shady one-man corporation that’s destroying Hip-Hop).

          I put “work” in quotes because cease-and-demands are not always issued in defense of books like “On the Road” — the “work” in question is frequently something insignificant or a case of fair use. I have no problem for artists and their lawyers standing up against cases of real infringement.

          But this is largely outside the scope of this article, which concerns the length of copyright terms. (Then again, if the terms were not so absurdly long, there would be fewer occasions for lawsuits – and more respect for the copyright regime overall.)

          • Joshua Bodwell

            Yes, Jeff, I said the lawsuits of the 1990s had a serious effect on hip hop.
            But if you can type with a straight face that hip hop sales are currently, today, plummeting or that the genre is in danger of disappearing, you’re out of your mind.

            *To your note that copyright protection is “absurdly long,” I’d have counter: why is there a timeframe at all? I’m sure you’re fine that Coca Cola has protected it’s trademarked logo since the 1880s. Why can’t a novelist who published a novel in the 1880s expect the same?

  25. @ Joshua

    I don’t know if an analogy to owning a house is the same thing … because here, an author could purchase a house with their book profits, and the house can still be left to their children.

    I am absolutely in favour of public domain, I think where it trips people up is the monetary gains great-great-great-grandchildren are losing, and surely, by then, those great-great-great-grandchildren should be earning money by their own means, and let the works be enjoyed freely by the public at large?

  26. Joshua Bodwell

    “US Starves…”

    “…mournful annual report…”

    “…chill creativity…”

    Is this for real? It’s so hyperbolically written that it’s certainly not worth copyrighting.
    That’s got to be the first time I’ve heard someone not being allowed to monetize someone else’s creative product described as “chilling creativity.”

    It saddens me that our culture thinks it okay that one can build a house and expect to pass it down to their children and children’s children and so on, yet can’t expect to do the same when one builds a book. It’s a culture that salivates at the idea of making money off the creative endeavors of others.

    • Jeff Young

      You’re missing the fact that “the culture” shares ownership in the value of so-called “intellectual” works. Such works have no intrinsic values all by their lonesome. They require the imprimatur of cultural acceptance+consumption to be as valuable as they’ve become. It’s a 2-sided street here. And part of the deal was that copyright would only last so long. That was the environment in which these works were created, produced, praised, and valued. To tamper with the rules after the fact sort of queers the deal and can only lead to more intellectual disillusionment and cynicism, and yes disregard of rules, in addition to the continued enrichment of the nominal owners.

          • How the hell is the person who created the work a “nominal” owner. I would much rather see copyright extended to 150 years than another court cave in to a parasite like Google. Google creates nothing, yet has the right to use copyrighted works, make money of that use, and not have to share the money with the copyright owner.

            Society is kicking itself in the head, but really, US society will always follow the story that has the most money spent advertising it.

            • Paul Snow

              As I use chrome to read this article, I find it amazing that you feel Google “creates nothing”.

              Searching books is a service, and it is a critical one. Copyright owners have no more reason to suppress the discovery of their work than a business has to be removed from all maps.

              The only group that wins by limiting access to works is Corporate Publishing, which seeks to make content rare by hiding existing content to the greatest extent possible. That isn’t fair to most authors, and it isn’t fair to the public.

            • Really? So just because it was an original part of the Constitution it doesn’t count? Copyright law was established to protect the rights of the creator. I think once the author dies, the copyright should die too. The person who created the work is not and no longer capable of collecting a dime, only parasites that live off the author’s memory. Can’t take it with you.

            • Phil Lockwood

              The descendants of an author, nor the company holding (and extending the copyright) didn’t create the work, either.

              It’s not just about simply reading a book.

              It’s about the fair use of items that have been integrated into our culture. Authors should be able to create new works based on the existing legacies – write new Sherlock Holmes adventures, record new interpretations of classic songs, and make new paintings in response to existing pictures – without being burdened by excessive licensing and the threat of litigation.

              The purpose of copyright is to encourage creation, but the current laws stifle it in favor of shareholder profits.

    • Joshua, thanks for your comment but I’m not sure I understand your argument.. People can pass on copyright to their kids and grandkids. In fact, a novel written by a 20-year-old is likely to be covered by copyright until the year 2150. My point is that such terms are excessive and don’t reflect the incentive-based justification that governments use to grant copyright in the first place

      And as whether my article deserves copyright protection, I’m afraid you’re stuck there.. Thanks to the 1978 law, ANY work is copyrighted from the moment of creation, even old napkin doodles.

    • Harry Weaver

      It’s exactly that sort of imposition of physical property law upon the concept of ideas that is starving the social context of the material required for further creativity. A few continue – over a riduculously extended time period – to benefit massively at the cost of the many. This is as fine a definition of parasitism as any you will find. Nobody resents the right of the creator to earn from his/her creation, but by your logic, we would still be paying royalties to the descendents of the caveman who first picked up a stone to drive his point home, every time we purchased a hammer.

      What gets me is that the U.S. film industry was literally built on intellectual property piracy.

    • From a little read, public domain document, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Notice the word limited and to authors and inventors, not their heirs and assigns. Look it up in the first article of the U.S. Constitution.

    • Timothy Bramlett

      This isn’t about protected the works of the artists. This is, blatantly, to protect the corporations who now own rights to those works. Disney will lobby for extension of this protection until the end of fucking time so that they’ll always have a vice grip on their properties.

      Nothing to do with protection of the artists and creators and everything to do with corporate control.

    • Shawn Morozza

      but what if someones creative product is actually just a near copy of another product, one which doesnt have the support of million dollar lawyers and lobbyists? the big guy has been ripping off the little guys forever, they take these ideas that have been created over thousands of years by thousands of people, each revising it slightly, until they developed copyright law which somehow implies the greedy, wealthy companies are the original and sole creators of an idea, when in reality almost every advance in thinking and technology has been the collective work of many individuals, usually over many years

  27. So, speaking hypothetically, these works could be on a website outside of the US, and it would be perfectly legal in that country for them to be there and be freely available, and the copyright owner would be able to do nothing to stop them from being there, is that correct? And if I in the US were to download such works I could be in trouble here if anyone happened to notice, correct?

    My next question: What can we do to get Congress to change the laws in the US?

    • Steve Douglas

      Educate yourself on who you are voting for and the entire political process at the local and federal level. This is not a political statement for either party. It is about making sure the government works for us not the other way round.