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January 12, 2010
The (Public Domain) Day That Wasn't
According to The Public Domain blog, January 1 is supposed to be Public Domain Day. I confess I'd never heard of it before. Nor did I know that Jan 1 of this year was originally going to be the day that famous works of American and European literature would have passed into the public domain. However, since copyright term extension happened, these works did not become part of the public domain. In fact, it appears that NO works passed into the public domain this year. This ought to be good news for copyright holders, who can continue to make money from their longer copyright terms
In fact, as Cory points out in boingboing today,
more than 98% of all works in copyright are "orphaned" -- still in copyright, but no one knows to whom they belong.
So nobody's making money on those 98%. But because the owners of the other 2% have good lawyers, good publicists, and pet Congresscritters, we get the equivalent of a massive book-burning - the Public Domain entry uses the analogy of Bradbury's famous novel Farenheit 451
in which the society systematically burns every copy of books. Legally speaking, that's close to what we've done.
It's true you can still find copies of many of these orphaned works, if you know where to look. People own them; libraries may have them. But don't try to make use of them, either as reprintable material or even as source and inspiration. Because they're orphans you can't even find someone to pay for those rights. They're under a lock to which no one has the key.
By making the copyright system "opt out" instead of "opt in" we've engineered a fundamental social change in the world and not really a change for the better.
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