Thousands of copyrighted works set to enter the public domain today

January 1, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, writers, writing.

The intellectual property dam that has withheld thousands of copyrighted works — books, art, plays, films, etc. — from the public domain is about to burst.

It’s about time.

Copyright is a useful concept that helps protect an author or artist from having others benefit unduly from the work he or she has created. But a creative word is not just an object. It is an idea as well.

Because of that, the nation’s founds granted to Congress the right to set copyrights “for a limited time.” The obvious idea behind that phrase is that it would not be forever, and the hope was that the “limited time” would be reasonable.

Because of intense lobbying through the decades, that reasonable, limited time grew longer. It became unreasonable in 1998 when all copyrights were extended for 20 years. The extension was passed, for the most part, because the Disney corporation wanted to maintain its money-making control over its chief icon, Mickey Mouse.

That extension expires today, January 1, 2019, and the public will benefit enormously from the expiration. Thousands of works will come into the public domain, and entrepreneurs will be able to use them at will.

Yes, there will be some misuses. But there will be some creative uses that will add to our intellectual environment. The biggest misuse — the manipulation of copyright law to benefit corporations, stockholders, heirs, and estates — will finally come to an end.

You can read more about the specifics of this issue in these two articles:

A Mass of Copyrighted Works Will Soon Enter the Public Domain – The Atlantic

New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out – The New York Times

Caricature: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Scott’s most famous book, The Great Gadsby, will lose its copyright protection in 2021 because of the expiration of this copyright extension.

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