It’s international public domain day!

That’s right, on January 1st of this year (just like every year) works all over the world enter in to the public domain.

What does that mean? Well, a public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and
which may be freely used by everyone.

Public domain books can be freely downloaded/printed/sold/given away. Public domain movies can be watched for free. Any work in the public domain can be built upon to create a new work.

So, all over the world, we have new material to work with.

All over the world, except not here.

Nothing new has entered the public domain in the US in my lifetime.

Nothing new will enter the public domain in the US until 2019.

This is because US law was amended in 1978 to extend copyright far longer than is useful. (and again, twice, since then.)

What could have entered the public domain today?combo-3

A lot

Most commercial works produced up to 1986, plus all commercial works produced before 1958. That means that stuff from Jerry Lee Lewis, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Isaac Asimov, Truman Capote, and hundreds of other important cultural works would be available to us today.

But instead, we have to wait until 2019 to get anything, and for the works mentioned here we’ll have to wait until 2054. Twenty Fifty-Four.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current copyright term is that in most cases, the cultural harm is not offset by any benefit to an author or rights holder. Unlike the famous works highlighted here, the vast majority of works from 1958 do not retain commercial value,5 but they are presumably off limits to users who do not want to risk a copyright lawsuit. This means that no one is benefiting from continued copyright, while the works remain both commercially unavailable and culturally off limits. The public loses the possibility of meaningful access for no good reason.

So complain. Write a congressman. Fix our crappy laws.


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Author: Andrew

The "brains" behind the operation. An absent minded, energetic, and often times overwhelming individual. He is in his early 20s. He discovered how amazing music could be in highschool, and has spent the last several years trying to absorb all of it. When he isn't writing about music, he is slinging code or playing vintage arcade games. Please don't ask him to dance. He doesn't like that.

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