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April 9, 2004
Dashiell Hammett and the Case of the Public Domain
I've mentioned Blackmask before. They're the great publisher of free ebooks who ported Lessig's Free Culture into a number of different formats within hours of its release - Free Culture - Now With Even More Free. Now, they've announced the online publication of five books by the great American author Dashiell Hammett: Night Shots, The Second Story Angel, Who Killed Bob Teal?, Zigzags of Treachery and The Road Home.
Of more interest here, though, is the copyright history they've dug up on Hammett and his early works (Jailed in '51):
Anyway, in '51, Dash came up on the wrong side of the House Un-American Activities Committee, went to jail for refusing to name names, and because of some IRS difficulties, couldn't collect on royalties for previous or new works.
1951 was roughly 28 years after Dash's stories first began publishing. Prior to passage of the '76 Copyright Act, 28 years was the standard renewal period. Guess who was too busy to renew? (And no, Ms. Hellman doesn't get involved until after Dash's death, nor Mr. Cowan... nor anybody else for the stories I'll be adding. Prior to his death, Dash took care of his own renewals on such works as Poisonville, The Maltese Falcon, Thin Man, etc.) [Links in original.]
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