Were I lawyer, I think I might get involved in copyright. Enshrined in our constitution, copyright was created in the United States “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.”
It’s a beautifully written statement, describing the rationale and the parameters of copyright. “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” and “securing for a limited time.”
Initially, that limited time was 14 years, renewable for a second 14 years. Over the years those terms were extended to 28 years each. In 1976, though, Congress changed the rules to say copyright would last 75 years or the life of the author plus 50 years.
Given the the expressed reason for copyright is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” it’s hard to imagine how extending copyright would serve that purpose. Nonetheless, copyright was extended.
A cynic might say that wealthy corporate copyright holders, such as Disney, wanted to maintain a stranglehold on their creations to continute to profit from them. However, since this is obviously does not “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” that couldn’t possibly be the case.
In any event, works that would have been in the public domain, had the 1976 law not been passed continue to be locked away behind copyright “protection.” For example, starting yesterday, works from 1955 would have entered the public domain. Duke University yesterday published a partial list of those works, including:
- Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, the final installment in his Lord of Rings trilogy
- The Family of Man, Edward Steichen’s book of photographs showing the diversity and universality of human experience
- Michihiko Hachiya’s Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 8–September 30, 1945, translated by Warner Wells, md
- Evelyn Waugh’s Officers and Gentlemen, the second book in his Sword of Honour trilogy
- The first English translation of Thomas Mann’s last novel, Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (1954), by Denver Lindley
- C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth volume his The Chronicles of Narnia
- Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
- Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee’s play about the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” Inherit the Wind