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Public Domain Day 2010
December 31, 2009 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Public Domain Day 2010. This is the day when a year’s worth of copyrights expire in many countries around the world.Year of death + 70: (disclaimer) But in some other countries, it is a bittersweet day. The United States, Australia, Russia, and Mexico are in the midst of public domain freezes.
posted by stbalbach (40 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, at least Steamboat Willie's still protected.

And that's all that matters.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:36 PM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


Is steamboat willie out of copyright in Europe and other nations, or does it work based on the country the copyright originated in? Or most likely, is it a giant mess due to competing treaties?
posted by scodger at 9:57 PM on December 31, 2009


Fahrenheit 451… Book burning as done by lawyers
posted by Ritchie at 10:28 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or most likely, is it a giant mess due to competing treaties?

This. It's why countries that haven't gone for infinite-extending copyrights (yet - ACTA and bilateral trade agreements with the States will fix that 'problem') have bigger Gutenberg repositories (for example) than ones which do.
posted by rodgerd at 11:13 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite holidays! Does anyone happen to know where I could check to find out what films are becoming public domain today? In addition to that, I'd be interested to know if there's a site that carries a comprehensive list of public domain films.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 11:40 PM on December 31, 2009


ZenMasterThis: "And that's all that matters."

Actually, Winnie the Pooh also matters, and held by the same people and published two years prior.
posted by pwnguin at 12:19 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The characters and stories are stored in my memory. I can even relate my memories to others. I'm a walking copyright infringement.
posted by telstar at 1:32 AM on January 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


Am I correct in thinking that despite the constant push to extend copyright terms, thanks to the wonders of the internet in reality people are always able to access works via countries with the shortest copyright terms? This isn't very good from a legal or ethical perspective, I guess, but it gladdens my heart to think that the people constantly pushing to extend copyright terms will always be fighting a losing battle against the international nature of the web.

Unless, of course, some nasty international treaty that equalizes things comes along, I guess.
posted by Jimbob at 2:49 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oooh! Mucha's out of copyright! I think, in the United Kingdom.
posted by alasdair at 4:22 AM on January 1, 2010


a site that carries a comprehensive list of public domain films.

Many online public domain film archives are in fact not in the public domain. Since it is the job of the rights holder to issue take down notices, for many small studio and independent films, the rights holder is MIA for whatever reason so the websites call it "public domain" and gets away with it. Then others copy the film and assume it really is in the PD and ends up on sites like Internet Archive, further adding to the illusion of legitimacy.
posted by stbalbach at 6:46 AM on January 1, 2010


I've never quite understood the glee people express at the possibility of something like Steamboat Willie coming into public domain. I mean...what are you going to do with it once it's PD? Make another Steamboat Willie cartoon? Only with steampunk zombies? Oh, joy...

While I understand the apparent silliness of extending copyrights into perpetuity, I can't help but also feel that a lot of the fervor for restricting copyrights comes from people who are bereft of any original ideas of their own, preferring to fuck with someone else's creations, in lieu of being creative themselves. Kind of like a nation full of marketing directors.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:06 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: "I've never quite understood the glee people express at the possibility of something like Steamboat Willie coming into public domain. I mean...what are you going to do with it once it's PD? Make another Steamboat Willie cartoon? Only with steampunk zombies?"

Sticking it to the man is its own reward!

As to what you could do with it, probably not much of anything - if the Superman situation is any guide.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:20 AM on January 1, 2010


I can't help but also feel that a lot of the fervor for restricting copyrights comes from people who are bereft of any original ideas of their own, preferring to fuck with someone else's creations, in lieu of being creative themselves.

This seems grotesquely unfair to me. Unless you consider 90 percent of Disney's work, which draws extremely heavily from public domain fairy tales and children's books, to "fucking with somebody else's creation."

The glee of Steamboat Willie entering the public domain is that Disney made his fortune by drawing from the public domain well, and yet his company has steadfastly refused to pay back in. And he didn't even create Mickey -- it was, to a very large extent, Ub Iwerks, possibly basing it on a child's toy of the time.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:28 AM on January 1, 2010 [12 favorites]


...people who are bereft of any original ideas of their own, preferring to fuck with someone else's creations, in lieu of being creative themselves.

These must be the same people who take things like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, or The Lion King and make them into "new" movies that get consumed by millions. Or maybe you were talking about the people that make "original" music with riffs from Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters and then sue the hell out of other people for making "new/original" music with their riffs.

I don't know if I can defend the idea that all culture is derivative, but some of it is. And right now that's part of the fun. Middle school kids today have the Stones sitting next to Akon sitting next to a remix of Akon over a Stones beat on their ipods, and I come down on the side of that's fantastic.

On preview, props to AZ for getting into some of this.
posted by hue at 7:40 AM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't know if I can defend the idea that all culture is derivative...

Can you think of anything that isn't?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:30 AM on January 1, 2010


Thorzdad: "I've never quite understood the glee people express at the possibility of something like Steamboat Willie coming into public domain. I mean...what are you going to do with it once it's PD? Make another Steamboat Willie cartoon? Only with steampunk zombies?"

There's a point where the work becomes the property of the people. And if it's long after the death of the creator, then who cares? Should we support the estates of the people who did the hard work?

And then derivitive works could be better, or at least updated, or referred to without fear of legal action. We wouldn't have South Park's Scott Tenorman Must Die without Titus Andronicus after all...

Of course, all Disney has to do is trademark Steamboat Willie, and the argument's over. If they haven't already.
posted by CarlRossi at 8:44 AM on January 1, 2010


Words are references to things that we experience. Ergo, any creation that uses words is derivative of the referents of the words. Even if you are dealing with a silent film, it's quite likely that the creators used words to communicate what they wanted, so they are derivative as well. And it's quite rare for anyone to invent a new language for the purpose of making new art, so nearly all art is derivative of the language that it's created in.

Everything is derivative. This is fine. Being derivative doesn't prevent you from being original, you just have to do something with your derivative bits that nobody else has done before.

Cartoons like Mickey Mouse are a sort of language, as well. Whenever you hear the name Mickey Mouse you know who that is, what he looks and sounds like, and what cartoons you've seen with him in. Like any other sort of language, the character Mickey Mouse can be used to different effects than the one he was intended--take a look at Epic Mickey, do you think Walt Disney would have made a game like this?

The perpetual copyright on Mickey Mouse means that Disney gets to decide what sorts of art the character can be used in. They're pretty permissive with it, but they don't have to be. They can kill any Mickey-related art whenever they feel like it.

Is it so terrible that a corporation controls a bit of useful artistic vocabulary? I suppose it depends on what you think of openly derivative works like Epic Mickey. That bleak steampunk landscape just wouldn't have the same effect if you weren't playing as the mouse with the big ears.

If Mickey weren't under copyright, we'd probably be seeing a lot more of that sort of thing by now.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:47 AM on January 1, 2010


I've never quite understood the glee people express at the possibility of something like Steamboat Willie coming into public domain. I mean...what are you going to do with it once it's PD?

I dunno. What did Walt Disney do with public domain stories like Snow White, and public domain pieces of music like The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:52 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a point where the work becomes the property of the people. And if it's long after the death of the creator, then who cares? Should we support the estates of the people who did the hard work?

As a creative type, I'm torn on this. I do think that people should be able to will ownership of their creations to their heirs. Then again, I also obviously recognize the tons of work that has been built upon other works.

But would I say "There's a point where the work becomes the property of the people."? No. Why would you assume such a thing? It's kind of haughty.

Do you also want the Coca Cola recipe? Hey, it's been 100+ years, and its creator is dead, so why are we feeding his estate?!
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:11 AM on January 1, 2010


(Yes, I'm aware the Coke recipe isn't under creative copyright such as a novel would be, but it's just an example).

Anyhow, I think extended copyright is fine. 70 years after the death of the creator seems enough for the estates. What exactly is wrong with having to license a work first before using it?
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:15 AM on January 1, 2010


"There's a point where the work becomes the property of the people."? No. Why would you assume such a thing? It's kind of haughty.

Not haughty at all. The idea is grounded in the founding idea of copyright. From the Constitution (emphasis mine): "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."

Authors are granted property rights over their works only in exchange for their eventual contribution to the public domain. If you don't do the latter, you don't deserve the former.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:26 AM on January 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


the first ever copyright laws were designed to stop the publishers from cutting each other's throats, with the aim of ensuring the widest possible distribution of works of art to the public. Frith and Marshal, Music and Copyright. (Google Books)
posted by yoHighness at 9:29 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


But would I say "There's a point where the work becomes the property of the people."? No. Why would you assume such a thing? It's kind of haughty.

I submit that it's the reverse that is haughty.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:37 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The death of the creator thing made a lot more sense when the creator wasn't an immortal corporation.
posted by smackfu at 9:45 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The work was always the property of the people. We just allowed the creator exclusive use of it for a while. Like a lease on public land.
posted by Megafly at 9:47 AM on January 1, 2010


Should we mention Richard Stallman at this point?
posted by robertc at 10:19 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironically, the copyright on the comments on this page may never expire.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:27 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


What exactly is wrong with having to license a work first before using it?

Most obviously, life+70 means that for many works it is difficult or impossible to find who the rights-owners are. Some estates, like JM Barrie's or estates that own the rights to obviously lucrative works, are easy to find. But if you want to reprint for whatever reason a book published in 1925 (or whenever) by a relatively unknown author that had a moderate print run and then disappeared, you'd have to do your own research work to see when the author died, and then genealogical research to discover who the heirs, if any, were, and then legal research to try to determine how rights were passed on to the heirs or heirs of heirs, a subject on which the current inheritors themselves might have intense disagreement about once they learn you want to pay them money.

Good luck.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:41 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not haughty at all. The idea is grounded in the founding idea of copyright. From the Constitution (emphasis mine): "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."

This is really an American thing. The notion of intellectual property existed before the U.S. Constitution, and as yoHighness shows, it was much more property-ish. This is why Europe is even more skewed towards rights-holders (especially with the egregious notion of moral rights). That particular language in the U.S. Constitution is really an attempt to retroactively recalibrate the raison d'etre of Intellectual Property in America. Something along these lines:

Society wants its members to consume (see, hear, discuss, consider) art.
Society's members are more likely to consume art if there is variety and novelty, so we favor a large and ever-growing quantity of art to be consumed.
Society also wants to increase access to art, so it favors cheap art. Theoretically, it would favor free art, but empirically people are willing to pay small costs for art (assuming otherwise functioning market conditions like ease-of-transmission and information symmetry).
Some members of society will create art for free and give it away in whatever format. Others will create art for free, but profit from the first sale of the art, whether in tangible property form or service (licensure to witness a performance) form. These people are the ones adhering to the usual market/property models.
Unfortunately, some of them will not be able to make a profit. This is a result of market failure.
An adequate amount of money cannot be made from art when a copy of art is too easy to produce by noncreators compared to the original creation, but is consumed almost as well.
Society wants to encourage its members to create art, primarily so other members will consume it, but also secondarily because there is a multiplier effect as art inspires the creation and consumption of more art, and tertiarily because an increase in the art to be consumed will drive down the cost of art to members of society due to competition.
[So far, there is no mention of a special "intellectual" class of property. Nor, for that matter, has "the public domain" been created yet. Art still exists in the same primordial ooze as everything else]
To encourage the creation of an adequate amount of art, society must create an incentive.
Society could subsidize artists directly (like with agricultural subsidies) through programs like the NEA or (formerly) the WPA.
Society could also indirectly subsidize by creating a market "fix" to address the failure.
Society chose as a market fix the creation of limited monopolies in the copies of art to be created.
Monopolies, however, are market problems in their own right. Creators could abuse them like other monopolists do.
To remedy this, society ensures that the monopoly is temporary, and will sunset after a given period. After this, the art will fall into the public domain.
In the public domain art can still be monetized (like everything else), but there is no longer any intervention to favor originals over copies.
Independent of such intervention, artists have also found ways to profit off their art through branding (using the art to create an identity, then selling products based on that identity, like t-shirts).
posted by aswego at 10:43 AM on January 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, when a work goes into the PD, it becomes accessible. Look at the 1.8 million public domain books on Internet Archive available in full right now at no cost. Compare with the millions of copyright but out-of-print "orphan books."
posted by stbalbach at 10:53 AM on January 1, 2010


cmgonzalez wrote:

(Yes, I'm aware the Coke recipe isn't under creative copyright such as a novel would be, but it's just an example).


Moreover, it's kept secret by the company, not published for all to see, so the example isn't an example at all.
posted by wierdo at 12:13 PM on January 1, 2010


What is, very likely, the original Coca Cola recipe can be found here.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:43 PM on January 1, 2010


cmgonzalez: If you keep your creations all to yourself and secret then you dont have to let anyone copy it ever.
posted by Iax at 4:03 PM on January 1, 2010


It's not that work becomes "property of the people" after the expiration of copyright. I think it makes more sense, from a natural rights point-of-view, to think of copyright as an artificial restriction on the ability of artists, publishers, and production companies to produce and distribute certain works (that is, works that are under copyright). Once copyright expires, the system reverts to its "natural" state as expected under a regime that supports free expression: anyone can create, publish, produce, or sell anything they damn well please. So copyright policy needs to balance the right to free expression of some actors with the societal value of compensating the creativity of other actors. The rights of the creators are not the only rights involved in the calculation.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:15 PM on January 1, 2010


(Yes, I'm aware the Coke recipe isn't under creative copyright such as a novel would be, but it's just an example).

A terrible, and and completely irrelevant, example. That's called "muddying the waters", cmgonzalez.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:50 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


mr_roboto > Once copyright expires, the system reverts to its "natural" state as expected under a regime that supports free expression: anyone can create, publish, produce, or sell anything they damn well please.

Exactly. The monopoly on 'copying' is inherently an abridgment of free speech. The best example of this is the recent practice of registering* a legal nastygram to prevent the target from publicizing it.

*registration is not required anymore, which is a whole other problem, but it increases the damages that can be recovered from a successful suit
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:27 PM on January 1, 2010


What exactly is wrong with having to license a work first before using it?

This question is answered, quite comprehensively, by the existence of the film Sita Sings the Blues.

Nina Paley made a fantastic film, inspired around a selection of 1920's jazz recordings, only to discover that while the artist who made them was decades dead, a record company had a handful of loopholes in place to fuck her over- for example, sure, the song was public domain, but the lyrics and the act of syncing the music to lyrics- I am not kidding on that last one- were still under copyright. The record company's response, which I will add came after the entire movie was completed, paid for out of Paley's own pocket: oh, nice film. Give us a quarter of a million dollars or we won't let you release it.

Because she is now legally incapable of profiting from it, Paley released the film under a Creative Commons license. Here's a chart of the exact by-cent royalties you need to pay various national recording organizations if you want to share a copy of the DVD.

That's what's wrong with having to license 80 year old songs.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:24 AM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


If more films/books/websites took royalties as seriously as Sita Sings the Blues - with the chart and royalty checks and penny amounts - it would cause a grassroots revolt against the whole system. Creative Commons is the way out of the whole mess, it will just take generations.
posted by stbalbach at 7:14 AM on January 2, 2010


The problem with life + 70 is that in this modern world, a lot of the originals will be gone by the time the work enters public domain. How many of the original floppies/CDs/DVDs will still work when the work they contain enters public domain?
posted by ymgve at 10:58 AM on January 2, 2010


Every day is Public Domain Day as far as I'm concerned.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2010


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