Guess what’s finally entering America’s public domain today? Appropriately enough, it’s Marcel Proust’s 1927 novel Remembrance of Things Past.
Also entering the public domain today are thousands of other books, plus the music and lyrics of hundreds of songs, and even several silent movies.
Fritz Lang’s sci-fi classic Metropolis enters the public domain today — and so does the Laurel & Hardy comedy Battle of the Century (which culminates with one of Hollywod’s first pie fights), according to Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain:
This is actually the second time that Metropolis has gone into the US public domain. The first was in 1955, when its initial 28-year term expired and the rights holders did not renew the copyright. Then in 1996 a new law restored the copyrights in qualifying foreign works. Metropolis, along with thousands of other works, was pulled out of the public domain, and now reenters it after the expiration of the 95-year term, with the once missing scenes available for anyone to reuse.
They also note that some material is in the public domain from the beginning, including government works like the images from the James Webb telescope.
But for other works, today is a big and important day, writes the Associated Press:
Alongside the short-story collection “The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes,” books such as Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse,” Ernest Hemingway’s “Men Without Women,” William Faulkner’s “Mosquitoes” and Agatha Christie’s “The Big Four” — an Hercule Poirot mystery — will become public domain as the calendar turns to 2023. Once a work enters the public domain it can legally be shared, performed, reused, repurposed or sampled without permission or cost.
The works from 1927 were originally supposed to be copyrighted for 75 years, but the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act delayed opening them up for an additional 20 years. While many prominent works on the list used those extra two decades to earn their copyright holders good money, a Duke University expert says the copyright protections also applied to “all of the works whose commercial viability had long subsided.”
“For the vast majority — probably 99% — of works from 1927, no copyright holder financially benefited from continued copyright. Yet they remained off limits, for no good reason,” Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, wrote in a blog post heralding “Public Domain Day 2023.” That long U.S. copyright period meant many works that would now become available have long since been lost, because they were not profitable to maintain by the legal owners, but couldn’t be used by others. On the Duke list are such “lost” films like Victor Fleming’s “The Way of All Flesh” and Tod Browning’s “London After Midnight….”
Also entering the public domain today:
– Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop
– A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six (illustrations by E. H. Shepard)
– Franklin W. Dixon’s The Tower Treasure — the first Hardy Boys book
– Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf (German version)
– The song “My Blue Heaven”
– Songs by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong
– Alfred Hitchcock’s early silent movie The Lodger
The UK-based newspaper the Observer adds:
For those readers who do not reside in the US, there is perhaps another reason for celebrating today, because copyright terms are longer in the US than they are in other parts of the world, including the EU and the UK. And therein lies a story about intellectual property laws and the power of political lobbying in a so-called liberal democracy…. The term was gradually lengthened in small increments by Congress until 1976, when it was extended by 19 years to 75 years and then in 1998 by the Sonny Bono Act. So, as the legal scholar Lawrence Lessig puts it, “in the 20 years after the Sonny Bono Act, while 1 million patents will pass into the public domain, zero copyrights will pass into the public domain by virtue of the expiration of a copyright term”….
[T]he end result is that American citizens have had to wait two decades to be free to adapt and reuse works to which we Europeans have had easy access….
The issue highlighted by Public Domain Day is not that intellectual property is evil but that aspects of it — especially copyright — have been monopolised and weaponised by corporate interests and that legislators have been supine in the face of their lobbying. Authors and inventors need protection against being ripped off. It’s obviously important that clever people are rewarded for their creativity and the patent system does that quite well. But if a patent only lasts for 20 years, why on earth should copyright last for life plus 70 years for a novel?
Read more of this story at Slashdot.