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"congress shrugged"
December 31, 2013 6:38 PM   Subscribe

If it weren't for the 1976 Copyright Act, copyright on work would expire after 56 years - which would have meant that Kerouac's On The Road, the original 12 Angry Men, and Elvis's All Shook Up would be public domain by today.
posted by divabat (38 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dang it, I had stripping Kerouac's children of their inheritance on my New Year's Resolution list too.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:39 PM on December 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Heck, I would've been public domain two years ago...
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:45 PM on December 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


Argh. And 2014 was going to be the year I tried to make money off my Atlas Shrugged/Cat in the Hat slash fanfiction.
posted by town of cats at 7:59 PM on December 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


Here's the thing: the issue is that you can't do so much ... in the United States. As noted in the article, "the laws in Canada and the EU are different – thousands of works are entering their public domains on January 1." Wikipedia has a great page on this topic: 2014 in public domain, a list of works that enter the public domain in part of the world in 2014.

So much of the world will progress, and the US will lose out with content producers working in (or at least selling through) other countries. The internet age levels so much of this, so the potential mentioned in the article ("Imagine a digital Library of Alexandria containing all of the world’s books from 1957 and earlier, where, thanks to technology, you can search, link, index, annotate, copy and paste") can exist, but will feature some cursory country-blocking. But with the proliferation of proxy services, including some great free browser plugins, country blocks are lip-service at best.

I think the biggest losers will be the lesser known works of the past. Kerouac's On The Road, the original 12 Angry Men, and Elvis's All Shook Up are all easy enough to access, through so many legitimate and grey-area services. In fact, I can find all of these items, some of them with no further searching than just entering in the title and artist. If necessary add "online" and viola, there it is. So it's the lesser artists and the re-works that won't survive online, or get re-posted after the material is taken down from a cease-and-desist.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:30 PM on December 31, 2013 [11 favorites]


.

(for the public domain)
posted by entropicamericana at 8:46 PM on December 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


What about the push for "harmonization", ie syncing up all copyright periods with the country with the longest one, that is carried out via various trade agreements (Benkler has some good writing about this). I haven't been keeping up with this stuff lately, is it expected that EU will be harmonized with the US or are they successfully resisting?
posted by Joe Chip at 8:58 PM on December 31, 2013


Dang it, I had stripping Kerouac's children of their inheritance on my New Year's Resolution list too.

It looks like he had one child. She died in the 90's with no children.

I'm sure Kerouac's deceased ex-wife's estate's lawyers appreciate your forbearance, though.
posted by underflow at 8:59 PM on December 31, 2013 [22 favorites]


It's a sweet year to be Canadian: works including Frost, Plath, W C Williams, Cocteau, C S Lewis, Huxley and Tzara hit the public domain.
posted by scruss at 9:16 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh Cory Doctorow, won't you save us?
posted by vorpal bunny at 10:34 PM on December 31, 2013


Heck, even Sherlock Holmes isn't fully in the public domain in the US.

Copyright is fucked forever.
posted by Evilspork at 10:56 PM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dammit! I was going to remake all these works where Scrooge had an erection during the whole thing!
posted by hippybear at 11:42 PM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure Kerouac's deceased ex-wife's estate's lawyers appreciate your forbearance, though.

The story is so much more interesting than that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:56 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]


And yet, with torrents and e-readers, it really doesn't matter in practice.

Although I have never met a person who would download Atlas Shrugged.
posted by Mezentian at 3:21 AM on January 1


Guess I'll have to create something original again.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:44 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]


Argh. And 2014 was going to be the year I tried to make money off my Atlas Shrugged/Cat in the Hat slash fanfiction.

Who is Thing 1?
posted by fairmettle at 6:07 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]


It's a sweet year to be Canadian: works including Frost, Plath, W C Williams, Cocteau, C S Lewis, Huxley and Tzara hit the public domain.

What does it look like when, say, C.S. Lewis' works enter the public domain in Canada but not in the United States? Inexpensive Dover-style editions that can't be exported to America? License-free Canadian TV adaptations that can't be broadcast across the border?
posted by Songdog at 6:11 AM on January 1


Time to start a campaign that utilizes the untapped potential of the Tea Party. "If the big government COPYRIGHT LOVERS in CONGRESS have their way, we'll have to pay some SOCIALIST in ENGLAND whenever we read a passage from OUR King James Bible!"
posted by Flunkie at 6:20 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]


Dang it, I had stripping Kerouac's children of their inheritance on my New Year's Resolution list too.

Eh, knock it off. If it comes down to giving something good for the world over five decades after it was written over something good for a few, I'll take the former, in general. It's shenanigans like perpetual copyright that allowed James Joyce's heir to attempt to exert his foul control over how his granddad is percieved, exercising a defacto veto over Joyce scholarship long after the original Joyce died. And of course it's not just Kerouac that would enter the public domain but everything else created that year -- yes, anything created, since it was ruled that anything can be copyrighted. That's a huge pile of things to wall off so that Kerouac's desecendants can profit.

Oh Cory Doctorow, won't you save us?

Wow, that's spiteful. And seriously, are we still doing the LOL DOCTOROW thing? I thought we stopped with our collective playful/petty disdain for the guy years ago?
posted by JHarris at 7:40 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]


Songdog: What does it look like when, say, C.S. Lewis' works enter the public domain in Canada but not in the United States?

Like this, where Laura Ingalls Wilder's books have been digitized under the Canadian copyright allowances, and there's a cursory message "If the book is under copyright in your country, do not download or redistribute this work."

Again, the internet makes such unsynchronized copyright efforts a stupid mess.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:38 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]


Mezentian: "And yet, with torrents and e-readers, it really doesn't matter in practice."

It does matter. Sure you'll always be able to download The Stand but less popular stuff isn't available because the risk of penalty isn't worth the reward. The kind of books where maybe a hundred people are interested but one of them is the grand-daughter of the original copyright holder and won't release the works for REASONS is hard to get or will die before entering the public domain.
posted by Mitheral at 10:00 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


When he got to congress, Sonny Bono was point man in passing legislation to extend copyright out to a century and more. Then g-d smote him with a tree!
posted by Fupped Duck at 10:01 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


Technically god kinda smote the tree with Bono. Perhaps the tree had offended him and he got in a two-fer?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:34 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


And yet, with torrents and e-readers, it really doesn't matter in practice.

The availability of a torrent of something does not mean that I am allowed to create my own art using pieces of that torrented work, at least not without hiring a lawyer to track down everyone who might conceivably want a piece of me should I ever make any money from my work. The public domain benefits creators too, not just consumers. Just ask Disney.
posted by hades at 5:04 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


JHarris: " I thought we stopped with our collective playful/petty disdain for the guy years ago?"

Nah, comes up a few times a year still.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:49 PM on January 1


There's a nice list of the Class of 2014 for public domain here.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:25 PM on January 1


"It does matter. Sure you'll always be able to download The Stand but less popular stuff isn't available because the risk of penalty isn't worth the reward. The kind of books where maybe a hundred people are interested but one of them is the grand-daughter of the original copyright holder and won't release the works for REASONS is hard to get or will die before entering the public domain."

The balance of this is that, at least when it comes to music, there's much, much less risk in putting up stuff that was obscure even in its time, because so many rights are orphaned that sharity blogs rip and share left and right. It's a bit obnoxious when you pull the megaupload links, but aside from that, it works OK.
posted by klangklangston at 7:30 PM on January 1


Again, it only mostly works ok for consumers. Without an orphaned works provision in copyright legislation, nobody can record their own versions of those awesome obscure tunes without the threat of litigation. The 1976 copyright act is a fucking travesty, not just because it extended the duration of copyright, but because it did away with the registration requirement. Even with registration, it can be practically impossible to track down the rights holder for a piece. Without mandatory registration, you might as well not even try.

The term extension's pretty bad, too -- before the 1976 revision, something you had heard as a child would be in the public domain within your lifetime. That's no longer necessarily the case. The 1976 copyright act essentially criminalized folk and traditional music.
posted by hades at 8:08 PM on January 1


Speaking of copyright term extensions: Public Domain Day 2014: The fight for the public domain is on now
posted by hades at 10:38 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]


" I thought we stopped with our collective playful/petty disdain for the guy years ago?"
Nah, comes up a few times a year still.


The problem is that an equilibrium has been reached between his accomplishments and the general level of respect he receives. There's not much to say there.

On the other hand every once in a while he does something self-aggrandizing and/or stupid and then it's off to the races.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:36 PM on January 1


... at least when it comes to music, there's much, much less risk in putting up stuff that was obscure even in its time, because so many rights are orphaned that sharity blogs rip and share left and right. It's a bit obnoxious when you pull the megaupload links, but aside from that, it works OK.

I was going to say the same thing is vaguely true about all media, but the OP article points out that this is more than simple access to past creations, it's the ability to do really neat things with them without fear of your work being halted just as it's getting some attention.

A few examples that are rough fits: the complete Calvin and Hobbes with strips and searchable text (this is still up, but I think a similar site was taken off-line) and the various cartoon remakes (Garfield without Garfield, Disfunctional Family Circus [new home for an old idea], etc.) -- these could all disappear at any moment, because none of them are sanctioned by the copyright holders.

And to get more advanced, any processing that requires reliable access to resources (see the Calvin and Hobbes site, which simply links to the strips that are officially hosted elsewhere) could no longer work when anything is moved, or access is taken away. If works were in the public domain, people could do more interesting processing of them without concern about the source data being taken away on a whim, or the use disallowed. Access is only the tip of the public domain iceberg.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:10 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Wow, that's spiteful. And seriously, are we still doing the LOL DOCTOROW thing? I thought we stopped with our collective playful/petty disdain for the guy years ago?

Ever read any of his novels? Blog posts? Twitters? He's an amusing parody of himself.
posted by Ratio at 11:19 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Ever read any of his novels? Blog posts? Twitters? He's an amusing parody of himself.

Might be more fun to read your novels, and see if we feel more like making sport of YOU instead.
posted by uberchet at 2:03 PM on January 2


Might be more fun to read your novels

You're right, it would be.
posted by Ratio at 2:40 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


A few examples that are rough fits: the complete Calvin and Hobbes with strips and searchable text (this is still up, but I think a similar site was taken off-line) and the various cartoon remakes (Garfield without Garfield, Disfunctional Family Circus [new home for an old idea], etc.) -- these could all disappear at any moment, because none of them are sanctioned by the copyright holders.

That Calvin & Hobbes one, as cool as it is, seems extremely dodgy - it's an exact replacement for an original work without the author's consent. Putting it in the same category as Garfield Minus Garfield, which is doing some creative riffing on an extant work, seems to create a false equivalence. It's not totally straightforward, and I'm not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure a good one could make a better argument for the latter's existence than the former's.

Also, regarding Sherlock Holmes: When Courts Adjudicate the Quality of Literary Characters.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:45 AM on January 3


That Calvin & Hobbes one, as cool as it is, seems extremely dodgy

Here's a less-dodgy one, that I think I've used as an example before: the old-time/bluegrass tune "Wildwood Flower". First published in 1860 as "I'll Twine 'Mid The Ringlets", you'd think this would be in the public domain. And it is, with that title. But in 1928, the Carter Family recorded their version of it, which had through the folk process acquired lyric changes sufficient to create a copyrightable derivative work -- note that they didn't sit down and write new lyrics or a new melody; it had been passed down to them through oral tradition and encountered transcription errors along the way. Nevertheless, the change means it's a new copyrightable work. And so we now have a tune called "Wildwood Flower", copyright established in 1930 and renewed in 1955, which means that the copyright term ends 95 years from the date of publication, or 2025. (If today's copyright law had been in effect then, it wouldn't expire until 2030, 70 years after A.P. Carter's death in 1960.) It's BMI work #1674363, which means that if I want to make and sell a recording of myself playing a tune written in 1860, I either have to make sure that I am playing _exactly_ what was published in 1860, or I have to pay a licensing fee to BMI, because they can afford better lawyers than I can and they'll claim that my arrangement is too similar to the arrangement of the Carter Family, which they own.

Or to any of the many, many other copyright-protected arrangements made since then. Arranging a public domain tune is a copyrightable act of creation, and there's only so many ways to arrange a tune that's 16 measures long. So it's a pretty safe bet that any version of a "traditional" tune I might play is close enough to some version that's still under copyright that someone could claim I owe them a licensing fee, even if I've never heard their version.

Oh, but back to my original point -- I can easily find a free download of the Carter Family's version of Wildwood Flower online, as well as a bunch of other recordings from that era where the chain of copyright transfer is harder to establish. As a consumer, I have no problem with the weird copyright issues around folk music. As a creator, though, I have some huge issues with it.
posted by hades at 12:32 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Point of clarification: I have to pay BMI to perform Wildwood Flower in public, because they manage the performance rights. If I want to make a recording of it, I have to pay the Harry Fox Agency, which manages the mechanical license.
posted by hades at 12:46 PM on January 3






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