Happy Public Domain Day 2008!

SFFaudio Commentary

CopyrightWatch.caSince the inception of the SFFaudio in 2003, and especially since the SFFaudio Challenge back in 2006, there have been many queries directed my way about copyright. I’ve had no formal training, but having a blog and getting questions about it means I’ve had to learn quite a bit about it. Copyright is a form of protection grounded in law granting original works of artistic creation protection for a set period. Various copyright laws are in force in many countries of the world. One source I’ve found for my own country is the indispensable CopyrightWatch.ca blog. As today is the first of 2008, this day marks the birth of many new public domain works. As CopyrightWatch author Wallace McLean points out “thousands, indeed millions, of creative works from the collective cultural past of our little planet and its many countries [become] Public Domain [today] in most countries of the world” That makes January 1st a birthday party of sorts! Included amongst the newly public domain works are some by notable SFF authors. Here are a few of the details from the extensive post on the blog…

In the largest bloc of countries of the world, with the majority of the world’s population, the general copyright term of life+50 expired no later than midnight this morning for the works whose author, or last-surviving of multiple authors, died in 1957. These works, which have passed out of copyright and become part of our commonly-held cultural heritage, include works of art and literature, accounts of discovery and adventure, biographies and autobiographies, scientific and philosopical treatises, film and theology, architecture and poetry; in short, products of the human mind in every medium, in every field of creativity, discovery, and endeavour.

The life+50 class of the newly-Public Domain includes:

The King Of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord DunsanyAnglo-Irish fantasy writer Lord Dunsany

Brigands Of The Moon by Ray CummingsAmerican pulp sci-fi author Ray Cummings

And many more!

The second-largest bloc in the world copyright map, with about half the countries of the life+50 universe, is the life+70 universe, which includes much of Europe (this means that works by authors, or last-surviving authors, who died in 1937 are now public domain in the life+70 countries. Authors or other creators of “works” who died in 1937) include:

The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. LovecraftAmerican fantasy and science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft

Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens by J.M. BarrieScottish novelist and dramatist J.M. Barrie

And many more!

In the United States, unpublished works by the life+70 class of authors are also in the public domain as of today, joining published works by the same authors, if published before 1923. Published works by those auhors, if published after 1922, may still by under copyright in the U.S. In Canada and the United Kingdom, however, the situation is reversed. While published works by authors who died 50 or more years ago are public domain in Canada (or more than 70 years ago in the U.K.), unpublished works, such as letters and other papers, are still under copyright in Canada for works by authors who died after 1949, and in the U.K. for unpublished works by all authors, no matter how long ago they died. This anamolous class of unpublished works will not see their British Public Domain Day until January 1, 2039, or in Canada until January 1, 2049, unless and until the Parliaments of the two countries finally see fit to eliminate this confusing and culturally counterproductive bit of legislative stupidity.

Also entering the public domain around the world today are works of anonymous or pseudonymous authorship which were published in 1957 (or whichever other year applies according to your local copyright term for such works.)

But let us nevertheless pause to celebrate the gains that the public domain has made today, in Canada and throughout the world. It’s your past, your cultural heritage, your public domain. Promote it, celebrate it, and use it, or we will lose it.

Happy Public Domain Day 2008! If you start making audiobooks or audio dramas out of these author’s works let me know. I’ll make links!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Leave a Reply