In this month’s free article from Searcher: The Magazine for Database Professionals Peter B. Hirtle, Senior Policy Advisor at Cornell University Library sets the record straight on the complex world of copyright law in the United States.
Thanks to digital technologies, today everyone can easily be a publisher and, just as easily, violate copyright laws that were written with the assumption that all publishers would have New York or Hollywood lawyers review their use of copyrighted works and, when appropriate, negotiate permission fees. The public domain can be an escape valve. By using public domain music, art, and texts in digital mashups, the general public can step outside of our public-unfriendly copyright regime. The public domain is a cultural commons on which we can all freely draw.
All copyrighted works must eventually enter the public domain, but determining when that happens is not easy. That is because over the years the rules regulating copyright have changed, usually for the worse. In response to requests from copyright owners and in the absence of any evidence suggesting that it fulfills copyright’s purpose (i.e., the creation and distribution of new works), copyright terms have been arbitrarily lengthened, and the range of works protected by copyright has widened. Sometimes the changes are retroactive; others apply only to prospective works. As a result, a mish-mash of rules and regulations governing copyright duration and the scope of the public domain has arisen.
Read the full article at When Is 1923 Going to Arrive and Other Complications of the U.S. Public Domain.