Public Domain Day 2019
December 21, 2018 9:38 AM   Subscribe

 
I've been waiting for this day for years--finally, I can set the words of Kahlil Gibran's 'The Prophet' to the tune of Jelly Roll Morton's 'Wolverine Blues.'
posted by box at 9:43 AM on December 21, 2018 [35 favorites]


Miles to go before I sleep...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


We'll have to see what happens as the public domain window creeps up on significant Disney properties in the next decade.
posted by octothorpe at 9:53 AM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


Lead link is by MeFi's Own (tm) Glenn Fleishman.
posted by mwhybark at 9:53 AM on December 21, 2018 [8 favorites]


While it's nice to see works by Robert Frost and P. G. Wodehouse at last enter the public domain, what the new copyright laws have restricted amounts to the theft of our cultural heritage. The 1976 Copyright Act locked away such works as James Baldwin's Another Country, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsMadeleine L’Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Those and many more won't be released until 2058—who knows how many MeFites will still be around for that?
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2018 [18 favorites]


I like how different countries have different terms of copyright. For example, James Bond is out of copyright in Canada.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


I am so excited for this! I've been watching this date creep forward for years. I assumed that the 2016 election would result in horrific new extensions of copyright law - but no! Congress and the courts have been so busy with their Nazi agenda, that they're completely ignoring publishing history! (I will take my tiny fragments of silver lining where I can find them.)

I have fantasies about pestering congressfolk about changing copyright law to "no extensions; works are held under the copyright laws in place when they were published - everything from 1962 and earlier is now in the public domain; works published up to 1978 have 5 years to file an extension, or they enter the public domain."

Convince them that putting Batman and Superman in the public domain will cause an explosion of creative works that will bring in lots and lots of money. Find specific congressfolks' favorite childhood books and movies, focusing on a couple that are obscure/out of print and talk about how lovely it'd be to be able to freely share those with kids today, about how nonprofit institutes could publish them cheaply and give them away at schools etc.

And then roll back Life+70 to the Berne Convention minimum L+50, and 50 years max on corporate works, so we have a tiny pocket of "not PD in any living person's lifetime" works and the rest go back to mostly, "great-grandparents can share their favorite childhood movies with the g'gkids without corporate restrictions."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:33 AM on December 21, 2018 [8 favorites]


I like how different countries have different terms of copyright. For example, James Bond is out of copyright in Canada.

Canada agreed to push our copyright term to life + 70 years as part of the new NAFTA agreement.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2018


We'll have to see what happens as the public domain window creeps up on significant Disney properties in the next decade.

The threat of Mickey Mouse entering the public domain will mean the end of the public domain
posted by The Whelk at 11:44 AM on December 21, 2018 [17 favorites]


FTFA: "After January 1, any record label can issue a dubstep version of the 1923 hit 'Yes! We Have No Bananas...'"

Shit, I love that song -- that would be awesome.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:48 AM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


This is, indeed, good news. I am a copyright holder and someone who ran a record label for several years - and I am also an enormous music and book enthusiast. As all of those things, I think copyright terms are way too long, and I would prefer a length of 28 years with no extensions.

Last year around this time, there was some discussion about whether copyright terms would be extended yet again (always citing the Disney influence), and the general consensus seemed to be that there was no great appetite for further extensions, even among major copyright-holding corporations:

Why Mickey Mouse’s 1998 copyright extension probably won’t happen again, Timothy B. Lee for Ars Technica, Jan 8 2018
To our surprise, there seemed to be universal agreement that another copyright extension was unlikely to be on the agenda this year.
Copyright Maximalists Throw In The Towel On Term Extension; Admit That Maybe Copyright Is Too Long from Techdirt, Jan 9 2018
Tim Lee, over at Ars Technica, has now (incredibly) got three of the biggest copyright maximalist organizations on the record to say that they will not lobby for copyright term extension, and (even more incredibly) got the Authors Guild (the perpetually pushing for crazy new expansions of copyright law freaking Authors Guild!) to even say that they think maybe we should scale back to life plus 50 again
Thanks for the news and the links, jedicus! Despite being a great fan of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain and Public Domain Day, I might well have missed seeing this this year.
posted by kristi at 12:41 PM on December 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


I wonder why Disney didn't lobby hard against this, this time.
posted by doctornemo at 12:45 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


I would prefer a length of 28 years with no extensions.

I can deal with extensions - just make them pay for them. $100 to register for an extra 10 years; that's long enough to decide if your high school garage band songs are going to be worth releasing with your professional band, or if your early drawings are worth including in your upcoming "early career of awesome artist" book. $1000 for another 10 years - if your book has become trendy and classic enough that you're still getting income from it almost 40 years later, you can maybe fund your retirement with it. $10,000 for another 10 years... if you're Disney, and you really want an exclusive "50 Years of SuperMovie!!!" release, 10k is a drop in the bucket compared to what you'll make, but it's not going to be worth restricting public use of every episode of every cartoon.

$100,000 for another 10 years after that, and so on. Disney can keep a lock on whatever it thinks is most profitable by paying the public for the exclusive usage rights.

28 years or similar would work very nicely as "long enough for the creator's kids, at time of publication, to grow up and have careers of their own," which should be plenty of time for a copyright to limit public use of the content.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:56 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


I can see no logical reason to have copyrights last longer than five years. Copyrights are an enormous market distortion. They are a government enforced monopoly. They hinder innovation. There's simply no justification for long copyrights.
posted by JackFlash at 1:00 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


I wonder why Disney didn't lobby hard against this, this time.

If I had to guess: The Mouse and friends are such a small part of the revenue stream these days, so why bother? Star Wars/MCU/Pixar just print money with properties that will be in copyright for a long time under even the current rules, so why put in the effort?
posted by sideshow at 1:05 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


I can see no logical reason to have copyrights last longer than five years.

Because John Q Author cannot make a living off 5 years' book sales, and Disney *can* make an extreme amount of money off the movie made from that book. Copyrights are there to prevent Disney from just waiting 5 years instead of paying him for the rights to make the movie that would make them tons of money.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:08 PM on December 21, 2018 [16 favorites]


Without copyrights, or with copyrights substantially shorter than the length of peak marketing, you wind up with authors who refuse to publish publicly - creative works become "viewable by special arrangement under contract that says you won't reproduce the work elsewhere."

Oh, and the internet collapses, as people are unwilling to make blog posts and even comments that can be rounded up by anyone and sold. And while most comments, and most posts, are random and meaningless--the Metafilter crowd doesn't want the entire Emotional Labor thread copied, mined for the best quotes, edited at will, translated without author review, and then turned into a book and sold.

The original purpose was the protection of publishers, not authors: Publisher A found a great book, and went to the effort of having it printed, got lots of attention and many people bought it--and without copyright, Pub B could pick up a copy and print it at half the cost (since they don't have to pay editors or the author), and Pub A will not recoup their business expenses and soon go bankrupt. With that as a business reality, why publish widely instead of to exclusive lists of buyers, who may have to sign a contract to get the book? Sure, you only sell a hundred copies, but a hundred copies at $150 each is as good as a three thousand at $5 each, and you're not providing content to your competitors. In order to encourage publication, we allow limited-time monopolies.

The problem is that "limited time" has been interpreted with Doctor Who's understanding of the phrase, rather than how any human culture understands "limited time."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:22 PM on December 21, 2018 [13 favorites]


It's always nice to see someone popping up with the declaration that authors don't need to live. Undoubtedly they are someone who's paid as they work, and doesn't think for two minutes about how this does not happen for authors.

The old system of 28 years + one extension was fine for authors. If we had that, everything up to 1963 would be public domain. Screw corporations and long-dead estates. But, hey, don't screw poor living authors.
posted by zompist at 1:34 PM on December 21, 2018 [14 favorites]


It's always nice to see someone popping up with the declaration that authors don't need to live.

[Citation needed]
posted by JackFlash at 2:04 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


"Copyrights are there to prevent Disney from just waiting 5 years instead of paying him for the rights to make the movie that would make them tons of money."

That's certainly not true. Copyrights have not been extended to protect the individual creator from the multinational conglomerate.
posted by el io at 2:26 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's ironic that Disney is so big on keeping their IP out of the public domain when so much of their IP is based on public domain material (Brothers Grimm, Pinocchio, etc.). The source novel Bambi is in the public domain in Europe, but not in the US (link includes details of Disney's dispute with novelist Felix Salten's heirs.)
posted by larrybob at 2:32 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


JackFlash, I'm only going to say this once, and I'm not going to argue further with someone who wants me dead. I'm an author. I make barely enough to live on. When you talk about limiting copyright to 5 years, you are literally talking about taking away half my income. So I can't eat or live. This is not a cute funny hypothetical for me, as it obviously is for you.
posted by zompist at 2:34 PM on December 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


I can see no logical reason to have copyrights last longer than five years.

Given that many books take 5 or more years to write, edit, and prep for publication (and for series the income from the first book may not peak until further books are published in the series, and the audience grows), this would stop me from ever publishing another thing. Writing can be fun, but it’s work. Editing is Not Fun, and is even more work. I’m not going to do that labor for free when I could be playing video games or traveling or, I dunno, making a living wage.

I can’t speak for Pat Rothfuss, but he’s an example of an author who’d be screwed royally by a five year copyright. If his series is turned into a successful media franchise, hell yeah he should get paid for that. Handing his characters about whom he is still writing over to persons unknown to do with as they wished would be a serious blow, creatively and financially. And it would harm the readers, because he might never finish the series.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 2:40 PM on December 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


If I had to guess: The Mouse and friends are such a small part of the revenue stream these days, so why bother?

Also, wouldn't Mickey Mouse be protected pretty strongly as a trademark for as long as Disney Corp. or some successor trades, restricting what could be done with it even without copyright protection?
posted by acb at 2:58 PM on December 21, 2018


Hope this helps Roger Langridge's Jeeves project.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:57 PM on December 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Trademark's complicated; it's focused on consumer confusion - so you can evade a lot of trademark law by saying, "this is not an authorized use of this logo/slogan/trademarked image." In order to sue for trademark infringement, Disney would have to claim that a reasonable person would mix up your version of The Mouse with theirs.

If you're making cartoons where Mickey has wacky adventures with Donald and Minnie, Disney may have a good claim. If you're making porn with Mickey, Disney will have a hard time convincing a judge that anyone will think that's actual authorized by them, especially if it starts with a big screen that says "UNAUTHORIZED and totally unofficial - MICKEY GOES WILD!"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:00 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thread by Jason Scott: "So, hilarious fun fact: In 2019 we're supposed to get 1923 stuff go into the public domain. Nice. People are celebrating that. Celebrations are fun. But it's quite obvious the game plan by big media is to take copyright control from the Librarian of Congress..."
posted by homunculus at 4:23 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


JackFlash, I'm only going to say this once, and I'm not going to argue further with someone who wants me dead.

Let me be clear. I do not want you dead.
posted by JackFlash at 5:50 PM on December 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure nobody here wants anyone else here to be dead.

But when you casually say, "there's no need for this law which is the only way you're making a living; the law is only getting in the way of other business possibilities and it should [probably] be abolished," it's going to sound like a personal attack to anyone whose income is derived from people following that law.

Zompist is hardly rare in being a person whose ability to stay alive literally depends on income that comes from being able to enforce copyrights. There are millions of authors, artists, musicians, and programmers whose entire careers are based on the premise that, when they make something, they can restrict how it's used in ways that encourage other people to pay for some of the usage rights. Some of those people could change careers if copyright law vanished; many couldn't, and some have disabilities or other circumstances that would literally kill them before they had the ability to make a transition to a different income stream.

A statement that "five years of copyright is plenty and we probably don't need it at all" comes across as both flippant and callous. It ignores over four hundred years of business history and implies that every creative artist, publisher, and lawyer in the IP field in the last four hundred years is clueless for not having seen the "obvious" solution of "let's just not have that law at all."

At best, it sounds like, "I don't need this law so I'm sure you don't either," which is breathtakingly ignorant but not overtly malicious. However, it comes closer to sounding like a Libertarian ideal of "everyone needs to decide what rights they want and sort those out through private contracts, instead of government fiat deciding what rights exist."

We need a rich public domain, not the stagnant one we've had for the last forty years. But we also need a thriving garden of cultivated works; we're not better off with "nobody owns anything and everyone can use it all however they want."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:18 PM on December 21, 2018 [8 favorites]


I would be perfectly happy with life of the author plus 18 years. That's the entirety of the original author's life, plus long enough for any child they might have to become an adult. Anything beyond that strikes me as excessive.

For works made for hire, half the average lifespan plus 18 years (although I'm not sure what the justification for the +18 years is there, except to make it fair, but that immediately leads to the question of why 'fairness' is a necessity when dealing with corporations? I'm not sure).

For the vast majority of works, I doubt that would even noticeably diminish their value as salable intellectual property, because the residual value that far down the line is typically very minimal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:44 PM on December 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


We'll have to see what happens as the public domain window creeps up on significant Disney properties in the next decade.
Ha! We all know what will happen.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:04 PM on December 21, 2018


I can see no logical reason to have copyrights last longer than five years.

Given that many books take 5 or more years to write, edit, and prep for publication (and for series the income from the first book may not peak until further books are published in the series, and the audience grows), this would stop me from ever publishing another thing.


I'm a playwright. I'm lucky that I'm having a production of a show I wrote happening in Spring 2019. The first draft of the play was written in 2012. The production happening in 2019 is the first production. While the royalties I'm getting are not amazing, I would be getting none at all under a five year term. And a multi-year period between first draft and first production is very common in the theatre world.

I also feel like the last time this conversation happened I pointed out that for playwrights a lot of the concerns around copyright are less about money (because the amount is generally so small) and more around issues of artistic integrity. For example -- Katori Hall shutting down a production of The Mountaintop because the director cast a white guy as Martin Luther King.

There are many logical reasons for folks to have copyrights that last longer than five years, just as there are many logical reasons why the current system does not work.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:10 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


To be fair, issues that come from very short copyright terms like plays written but not performed could be easily dealt with by having the term begin to run when the play is first publicly performed or whatever similar makes sense for the given media. Or simply allow renewals for a graduating fee, etc.

That said, I'm fine with anything up to ~40-50 years and think anything short of 8-12 is nuts economically. I'm not a fan of perpetually renewable terms, even with draconian fees attached. 28 with a single very expensive renewal would be OK, though.

One exception I have is that I'm far more willing to accept long copyright terms when it is held by a natural person and is not a work for hire held by a corporate entity. I don't particularly care to enrich a legal fiction by allowing it to take from the public as a whole.
posted by wierdo at 10:47 PM on December 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


I would be perfectly happy with life of the author plus 18 years. That's the entirety of the original author's life, plus long enough for any child they might have to become an adult.

Why should the public be asked to take a hit on behalf of the offspring of a creator?
posted by deadwax at 12:08 PM on December 22, 2018


Because the copyright lobby loves to whine about the poor children who will be destitute and starving if we dare shorten copyright to anything less than eternity; the extra 18 years is solely to undermine that argument.

One of the justifications for the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension act was (putatively) for the benefit of his offspring, who doubtless would have gone into penury if not for that extra few decades that got tacked on. (This is a really fucking stupid argument and I care about Sonny Bono's kids only very slightly more than I care about him, which is to say only slightly more than the health of the tree he crashed into, but for some people the THINK OF THE CHILLUNS!!11! argument is very successful. Remember: morons vote too.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:14 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


...author plus 18 years. That's the entirety of the original author's life, plus long enough for any child they might have to become an adult.

List the kid as a coauthor and take care of your future grandkids as well.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:41 PM on December 22, 2018


A better way to handle that, if we must go to a life+ model, would be life of the author, or 20 years from publication, whichever is longer.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:08 PM on December 22, 2018


As much as I'd love pushing copyright back to "a few decades, and maybe a bit more," the Berne Convention is the current international standard, and withdrawing from that would be a tangle. And it's got a Life+50 minimum - however, it seems to put corporate works at a 50 year flat minimum. Excerpt, emphasis added:
(1) The term of protection granted by this Convention shall be the life of the author and fifty years after his death.

(2) [For] cinematographic works, the countries of the Union may provide that the term of protection shall expire fifty years after the work has been made available to the public with the consent of the author, or, failing such an event within fifty years from the making of such a work, fifty years after the making.

(3) In the case of anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term of protection granted by this Convention shall expire fifty years after the work has been lawfully made available to the public. [If the pseudonym is known or revealed to be a specific person, it switches to L+50]

(4) ... the term of protection of photographic works and that of works of applied art in so far as they are protected as artistic works ... shall last at least until the end of a period of twenty-five years from the making of such a work.
Put copyright at the Berne Convention minimum; throw every corporate work (which falls under anon/pseudonymous, if there's no person to claim it) over 50 years old in the public domain, and we can wait a while before arguing if it needs to be pulled back to fewer years.

My suspicion is that the problem is with endless extension of corporate works, not individual author/artist works that last for L+50 or even L+70. Authors can have control of their works for their whole lives, and their heirs would have the option of extending that, or signing some things and releasing those works. An author's grandchild may be much more interested in new people reading their grandparent's work, than in whatever marginal profit might be available from it.

But companies can be still active and interested in exploiting their 80-year-old works, and they have no interest in whether the community gets to know and love those works if the community isn't going to pay for access. They'd rather literally let old films rot than release the rights to the public.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Well, we could always have a new convention.

Another possibility is to have relatively short terms with the ability to extend for increasingly onerous fees. Say, ten years free, first renewal $100, second renewal $10,000, etc.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:35 PM on December 22, 2018


I assumed that the 2016 election would result in horrific new extensions of copyright law - but no!

Actually it is our democratic lawmakers who are usually most beholden to Disney and other copyright maximalists. I believe it begins with Jack Valenti (far left), who initially happened to be on Air Force One more or less as a fluke, then signed on as an LBJ advisor, and then later headed of MPAA. Now it just seems part and parcel of Hollywood's support. Not even Obama could withstand their pushes for SOPA and ACTA.
posted by M-x shell at 10:12 AM on December 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


the Berne Convention is the current international standard, and withdrawing from that would be a tangle

Good thing we've got a President who isn't afraid to make the tough calls when it comes to getting us out of entangling international agreements, right?

I laugh so I don't cry.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:28 AM on December 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


According to QI, Irving Berlin lived long enough to see Alexander's Ragtime Band (1911) go into the public domain. The rule in his day was apparently date of work's creation + 70 years, and he lived till 1989.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:28 PM on December 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


larrybob: "It's ironic that Disney is so big on keeping their IP out of the public domain when so much of their IP is based on public domain material "

It's classic "fuck you - got mine" behaviour.
posted by Mitheral at 1:30 PM on December 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


Silent film enthusiasts aren't wasting any time.
posted by edeezy at 2:40 PM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


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