Halleluja, we’ve just gotten a whole bunch of books falling out of copyright into the public domain. Hasn’t happened for twenty years! The New York Times gives us the “official” news that the one-off delay in public-domain-ification introduced by the Mickey Mouse Copyright Act of 1998 is finally over. By extending the length of copyright protection by twenty years that act stopped books (and any other copyrighted works) entering the public domain since then. Lots of others weigh in on the story: TeleRead among others. Open Culture gives you links to free copies of many books which have just become part of the public domain.

Of course the world will never hear about most of the books which just came into the public domain. They’ll remain just as forgotten as they already had managed to become. But competition will open up: for instance Open Road Media will issue ebooks of several of them, and Penguin Books will publish some, including The Prophet, with an introduction by Rupi Kaur, in competition with the original Knopf edition. Nice to be able to keep the competition in-house. Derivative works (of these newly public domain books) have the lid taken off and will doubtless multiply. One writer suggests a surge of fan fic may result. The Great Gatsby remains protected for another couple of years. So if your ambition has always been too explore the early life of Daisy, get writing so that you’re ready for the starting pistol!

What I keep worrying about is that if the 1998 act was all about Mickey Mouse’s approaching birthday, is it not probable that someone at Disney has noticed that the old guy’s already 90 years old. Disney cannot be unaware that eternal copyright protection for their mouse is a vital legislative requirement.

Copyhype has a story (delivered via The Passive Voice) which tells us about the current workings of our copyright system and prospects for legislation this year. The good news is that the U. S. Copyright Office and the U. S. Patent and Trademarks Office are both operating during the current government shutdown. The ominous news may be how copyright, which is the foundational legal basis for our business, has grown so much that it’s now really all the other businesses touched by copyright who are driving the bus. These other businesses seem all to be growing fast, while book publishing stands pretty much still. The Mickey Mouse Copyright Act brought a focus on movie companies and their rights, and today’s reform impetus looks like being driven by on-line music and video.

Is there any hope that we might be able to get different laws covering the three separate (to my mind) aspects of copyright

  • big investments like movies,
  • on-line items, including music, and
  • books etc. — the written word?

See my post Copyright three ways from a couple of years ago. Isn’t it getting too complicated to combine the different needs of the three strands of intellectual property in one law? Maybe Rep. Nadler can be persuaded.