Tag: copyright duration

Public Domain Day 2019 Recap

Public Domain Day 2019 graphic

2019 began with a celebration; after a 20-year pause, works published in the United States in 1923 entered the public domain. In recognition of this occasion, Ohio State University Libraries began the Public Domain Day project, collaborating with partners across the university to bring attention to works whose term of copyright protection has expired and to encourage creative uses of public domain materials in the University Libraries’ collections.

In January of this year, the Public Domain Day project website was launched to share more information about the project and the partnerships involved. With a focus on public domain music, the project website highlighted a selection of musical scores that we believe entered the public domain in the U.S. in 2019.

Additionally, project partners worked together to provide a number of events throughout the year. Here is a recap of all the events for Public Domain Day 2019:

  • January 25, 2019: Public Domain Day Information Session. Copyright Services offered an information session with an overview of the ways a work may enter the public domain in the United States and how public domain materials may be used and shared to promote innovative research and creative expression. We also shared our plans for celebration at OSU with the Public Domain Day Project.
  • March 1, 2019: Public Domain Chamber Music and Chat. Two compositions, published in 1923, were the focus for this concert event. Composer Paul Hindemith’s Cello Sonata op. 25 no. 3 and String Quartet op. 22 were performed by OSU School of Music Professor Mark Rudoff and the Janus Quartet. The event included opening remarks on the significant public domain developments in 2019 and additional background on the two pieces performed. With the assistance of Professor Beth Black, Undergraduate Engagement Librarian for University Libraries, this event was also offered as a session for the Second-Year Transformational Experience Program (STEP).
  • April 11, 2019: OSU Symphonic Band concert featuring ‘McKinley’s Own’ march by Karl King. The OSU Symphonic Band, conducted by OSU School of Music professor Scott A. Jones, performed a new edition of composer Karl L. King’s march McKinley’s Own. Video of the performance is available online, with audio of the performance available on the Public Domain Day project website. The new edition, edited by Professor Alan Green and arranged by Scott A. Jones and Craig Levesque, was dedicated to the public domain through the CC0 waiver. The score and parts (imposed) are made available on the Public Domain Day project website.
  • November 4, 2019: Using Public Domain Materials in Your Teaching and Research. This workshop, offered by Copyright Services, provided participants with information and resources for identifying, finding, and using public domain text, images, and other creative works.
  • November 6, 2019: Safety Last! Film screening with the Wexner Center for the Arts. Safety Last!, released in 1923, is a silent film starring Harold Lloyd. This screening at the Wexner Center for the Arts featured a 1989 soundtrack composed by Carl Davis, with orchestration based on the line-up of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra of the 1920s and inspired by popular music of that era. The Ohio State University Libraries’ Silent Film Sheet Music Collection offers a number of musical scores that are arranged for the typical film theatre orchestras of the early 20th century. Three 1923 scores from that collection have been digitized and made available on the Public Domain Day project website. Scores from 1923 include:
    • Clark, C. Frederick, Midnight (Novelty Fox Trot)
    • Coots, J. Fred and Dave Ringle (arr. Ted Eastwood), Home Town Blues
    • Savino, Domenico, Misterioso all Valse (Dramatic Suspense)

On January 1, 2020, we will once again celebrate Public Domain Day. In 2020, we will welcome into the public domain works published in the United States in 1924. To keep up to date on new events offered in 2020 and to read more about the project, visit the Public Domain Day project website at go.osu.edu/Public DomainDay .

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By Maria Scheid, Copyright Services Coordinator at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries

Categories of Protected Works

The most current federal copyright statute includes eight categories of copyrightable works for both published and unpublished materials. But these eight categories weren’t added all at once, rather these broad classifications were added gradually over time as new technologies gave rise to new works.

When the first federal copyright statute was enacted in the United States, the Act only extended protection to “maps, charts, and books”, what we now generally categorize as literary works. The first addition came in 1802 when the 1790 Act was amended to include “engraving, and etching historical and other prints”, and also included the first instance of formalities that required creators to include a prescribed copyright notice on every work distributed to the public.

David L. Richardson and I.T. Norton registered the first musical work, “Maid of My Love” in 1831 after a revision of the general copyright law. Under current copyright law, Section 102(a)(2) provides protection in “musical works, including any accompanying words” that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Dramatic works received protection in 1856 which included for the first time, the right of public performance.

In 1865, just a few weeks before his death, Lincoln signed a new law that granted copyright protection to photographs and photographic negatives. Many speculate that the work of famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady had a strong influence on the bill.

Twenty six years later, U.S. copyright law was amended again when President Benjamin Harrison signed the International Copyright Act of 1891 which was the first US copyright law authorizing the establishment of copyright relations with foreign countries. It was the first U.S. congressional act that offered US copyright protection to citizens of other countries. The first foreign work registered was the play Saints and Sinners by British author Henry Arthur Jones.

Public performance rights for musical compositions were formally established in 1897. In 1903, the Supreme Court extended protection to commercial art after Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co. sought protection for circus advertisements.

Before motion pictures were formally protected in 1912, copyright owners were required to register the works as a series of still photographs. “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” from 1894 is the oldest surviving motion picture deposited as still photos. The first motion picture registered under this new category was “Black Sheep’s Wool” from the Republic Film Company.

The last two additions to the categories of copyrightable works came in in the late 20th century. In 1980 the law was amended to affirm the copyrightability of computer programs, which falls under the broad category of literary works. Ten years later, architecture works were added in 1990, though they unofficially been protected since the 1909 Copyright Act as “[d]rawings or plastic works of a scientific or technical nature”, which were commonly interpreted as blueprints. In 1976, “an architect’s plans and drawings” were included as pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, but the protection was limited by the concept of useful articles. When the U.S. joined the Berne Convention in 1989, architectural works were formally added a requirement of the agreement.

Are you ready to test what you’ve learned above? Check out the interactive tool to put the categories of copyrightable works in the order they were added to law.

Do you want to learn more about copyright history in the United States? Visit the interactive Copyright Timeline available through the US Copyright Office.

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By Allison DeVito, Copyright Services Specialist at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries.

The Wait is Over! Public Domain Day 2019

What do F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Buster Keaton, and Jelly Roll Morton all have in common? They all have works that are entering the public domain in the U.S. today on Public Domain Day!

Today is Public Domain Day and this year’s celebration is a special one for those of us in the United States. After a 20-year pause, works published in the United States will once again be entering the public domain on a rolling basis. This year, we welcome works first registered or published in the United States in 1923.

As public domain works, these books, films, compositions, and works of art can be used without copyright restrictions. This means, for example, that instructors can make copies of literary works for their students, ensembles can create new arrangements and publicly perform musical works, and students can adapt and remix works freely into their own projects and assignments. Works in the public domain can be used to encourage and support learning, scholarship, and creative endeavors.

Why the 20-year wait?

Copyright protects many different types of creative works, including books, film, music, and art. And while the U.S. Constitution requires copyright be granted only for “limited Times,” the term of copyright protection has increased over the years. In 1998, Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extended the term of protection for published works by an additional 20 years. For works published before 1978, this meant a term of protection of 95 years from publication date. We have now reached the point where eligible works are reaching the 95-year mark.

In addition to these published works, we will see certain unpublished works enter the public domain in the U.S. on this day; specifically, unpublished works from authors who died during 1948 and unpublished works created in 1898 for anonymous and pseudonymous authors and works made for hire, and unpublished works when the date of the author’s death is unknown.[1]

Celebrating the Public Domain at OSU

Copyright Services has collaborated with partners across OSU to share public domain works in the University Libraries collections, focusing on musical compositions published or registered in the U.S. in 1923. Tomorrow, January 2, you can visit the Public Domain Day Project website (go.osu.edu/PublicDomainDay) to learn more about the partners involved in this project, the events planned for 2019, our plans for releasing new recordings of select musical works (to be dedicated to the public domain via Creative Commons CC0), and to access music scores and audio. New works will be added throughout 2019.

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By Maria Scheid, Copyright Services Coordinator at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries

[1] Depending on the work you are dealing with, there may be some additional considerations in determining the copyright status of a work. Two great resources for thinking through copyright term and public domain are the American Library Association’s Public Domain Slider and Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States chart.

 

Public Domain Christmas Songs

It’s that time of year when Christmas lights are strung and ugly sweaters are worn. When singing along with your favorite carols have you ever thought of the copyright status behind these famous songs?

Here are nine well known Christmas songs that are in the public domain.

Away in a Manger

Once rumored to have been authored by theologian Martin Luther, this carol made an early appearance in 1882. Originally titled “Luther’s Cradle Song” an anonymous author attributed the song as one Luther wrote for his children. This was dispelled for a number of reasons, and a source states the song may have instead been associated with a celebration for the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth in 1883. There are two musical settings commonly assigned with the lyrics, one by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and the other by James Ramsey Murray (1887). In 1996 it was ranked as the second most popular carol in Britain. The text of the song is based on verses from Luke 2:4-7. Source: Away in a Manger

Deck the Halls

Originally titled Deck the Hall, this is a Welsh melody that dates back to the 16th century. The famous chorus ‘fa la la la la’ may date to the medieval period, while the modern English lyrics were written by Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant in 1862. The melody comes from a traditional Welsh carol “Nos Galan”, a traditional New Year’s Eve ballad. The plural of ‘hall’ was first published in 1892. Source: Deck the Halls Song History

Jingle Bells

Perhaps one of the most well-known Christmas songs, Jingle Bells was originally written for the Thanksgiving season by James Lord Pierpont in 1857. It was copyrighted as One Horse Open Sleigh, but the name was revised when it was published in 1859 as “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh”. The title comes from the common practice of placing bells on a horse’s harness to avoid collisions because a horse drawn sleigh makes little noise. Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from outer space when two astronauts on Gemini 6 performed the song aboard the spacecraft in 1965 after reporting a sleigh like object in the polar orbit. Source: 8 Things You May Not Know About “Jingle Bells”

Jingle Bells sheet music

Pierpont, J, and J Pierpont. The One Horse Open Sleigh. Oliver Ditson, Boston, monographic, 1857. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1857.620520/

Silent Night

Translated from the German “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”, the song was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, a schoolmaster, with lyrics by Father Joseph Mohr, in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria in 1818. Bing Crosby’s version is the third bestselling single of all time, and the song was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. Silent Night, as we know it today was translated to English in 1859 by John Freeman Young, an Episcopal priest. Source: Silent Night

Up on the House Top

Written by Benjamin Hanby in 1864, Up on the House Top was considered the first Christmas song to focus primarily on Santa Claus. Sources credit Hanby’s inspiration for the song as Clement C. Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”. The song was originally titled Santa Claus and meant to be performed as a sing along. According to The Christmas Carol Reader it is the second oldest secular Christmas song, only surpassed by Jingle Bells. Source: Up on the Housetop

Toyland

Written for the 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland, the whimsical song features a cast of Mother Goose characters in a magical toy filled land. The lyrics were written by Glenn MacDonough with music by Victor Herbert. The lyrics of the song have no direct ties to Christmas or the holiday season, but the spirit of the song, the happiness toys bring to children, has been associated with Santa Claus. The operetta has been adapted into 4 films of the same title, beginning in 1934 to the most recent animated version in 1997. Source: Babes in Toyland

The Twelve Days of Christmas

One of the most well-known cumulative songs, the carol describes an increasingly grand set of gifts for the twelve days of Christmas, beginning Christmas Day. The song was first published in 1780 without any music, and has a Roud Folk Song Index of 68. The standard tune it is now associated with was derived from a 1909 arrangement by Frederic Austin. In one 19th century variant, the gifts come from “my mother” rather than “my true love”.  PNC Financial annually calculates the total cost of all the gifts presented in the song, and the estimate for 2018 total comes to $39,0094.93. Source: The Twelve Days of Christmas Explained

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

The famous greeting which gives name to the song, “a merry Christmas and a happy New Year” is recorded from 18th century England. The song is a nod to the dynamic between the rich and poor, and describes townspeople parading the steps of the rich calling for figgy pudding and refusing to leave until it was delivered. The modern popularity of the song comes from a Bristol based composer Arthur Warrell, who arranged the song for the University of Bristol Madrigal singers in 1935. The very early history of the carol is unknown; it is notoriously missing from popular song books of the 18th and 19th centuries. Source: We Wish You a Merry Christmas

O Christmas Tree

Also known as O Tannenbaum, O Christmas Tree is a German Christmas song; a tannenbaum is the German word for a fir tree. The modern lyrics were written in 1824, and instead of referring to Christmas, reference the evergreen as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness. The custom of Christmas trees developed throughout the 19th century, and the song became associated with the holiday. The song was famously used in the 1965 television special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Source: O Christmas Tree: Lyrics and Chords

 

Copyrighted Christmas Songs

Unfortunately the songs listed below are still under copyright protection so we’ll have to wait a little while before they enter the public domain.

Winter Wonderland
Written: 1934
Public Domain: 2030

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Written: 1939
Public Domain: 2035

Frosty the Snowman
Written: 1950
Public Domain: 2046

Jingle Bell Rock
Written: 1957
Public Domain: 2053

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Written: 1958
Public Domain: 2054

Little Saint Nick
Written: 1963
Public Domain: 2059

Holly Jolly Christmas
Written: 1964
Public Domain: 2060

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By Allison DeVito, Copyright Services Specialist at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries

 

 

 

Back to the Basics with Copyright Law

Today is the 9th anniversary of the Copyright Corner blog, with the first post (Why Copyright Education?) published back in August of 2009. Since then, we’ve had posts covering a wide-range of issues; from copyright protection for patterns and DMCA exemptions to copyright issues faced by units across OSU Libraries and tips on finding a copyright owner. For this post, we are going back to the basics and looking at some of the fundamentals of copyright law in the United States.

Why do we have copyright?

There are a number of theories on the purpose of copyright. Countries may have laws that encompass one or more of these theories.

One common theory for the purpose of copyright is utilitarian. Under this theory, we provide authors a copyright in the works they create as an incentive to create and disseminate new works. The law is organized to promote the collective welfare of society, but recognizes that unless creators can recoup the costs involved in the creation and dissemination of their works, they won’t produce the works. Copyright gives to authors and creators exclusive rights in the works they create, which in turn allows them to suppress competition for a limited time.

Much of U.S. copyright law seems to align with this theory, with Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution granting Congress the power “to Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Rights to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Another theory for the purpose of copyright is the author’s rights theory. Under this theory, the primary purpose of copyright is to recognize and protect the emotional bond between artists and their creations, acknowledging creative works as manifestations and extensions of their author’s personality. Countries whose laws are influenced by this theory may provide moral rights for authors and creators that exist separately from economic rights.

What exactly is copyright and how do you get it?

Copyright is a legal right that allows creators and authors the ability to control certain uses of their works. The owner of a copyright has a number of exclusive rights that are provided under the law (these rights are discussed below).

In the U.S., copyright protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression and copyright exists at the moment of fixation. In other words, copyright protection is automatic.

Including a copyright notice (e.g., © 2018 The Ohio State University) is optional for works created today but there can be some advantages to including a notice on your copyrighted work. And registration with the U.S. Copyright Office? That’s also an optional step that provides some important benefits to copyright holders.

Continue reading

Public Domain Day 2018

It is the beginning of another year, which means the welcoming of new works into the public domain for Public Domain Day 2018. Today, countries around the world will expand their public domain with creative works whose term of copyright protection ended in 2017. As public domain works, these books, films, compositions, and works of art can be copied, shared, and remixed without copyright restrictions.

We have written before about the extension of the term of copyright protection under U.S. law and its impact on our public domain (we’ve also written about the ability of copyright owners to bypass this lengthy wait and dedicate their works to the public domain via Creative Commons CC0). As a result of this extension of copyright and Congress’s decision to apply the extension of copyright protection retroactively to existing works, those of us in the United States will need to wait until January 1, 2019 before we see new published works enter the public domain.

For now, the U.S. public domain will add a much smaller group of works—unpublished works whose author died in 1947 and were not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to 1978.

For an interesting read on some of the published works that are entering the public domain in countries around the world, head over to The Public Domain Review for their picks for the Class of 2018.

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By Maria Scheid, Copyright Services Specialist at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries

Public Domain Day 2017

Today on January 1st, we celebrate Public Domain Day—the day each year where works enter the public domain for many countries around the world following the expiration of their term of copyright protection.

Public domain works are works free of copyright restrictions; works capable of being freely reproduced, shared, and built upon by users. As we have discussed on this blog before, a robust public domain supports the underlying purpose of U.S. copyright law to promote the progress of knowledge and learning.[1]

But while many counties will see new works added to the public domain this year, there will be no published works entering the public domain in the United States. In fact, no published works will be added to the public domain in the United States until 2019.

Why the delay? The U.S. Constitution states that copyright protections may exist only for “limited times,” but our copyright law has been amended several times to extend the length of the term of protection. Under our first federal copyright statute, copyright protection lasted for an initial term of 14 years, renewable for another 14 years. The current term of protection for copyrighted works is the lifetime of the author plus an additional 70 years. As a result of this extension of copyright and Congress’s decision to apply the extension of copyright protection retroactively to existing works, works published in the United States from 1923 to 1977 will remain protected for 95 years after their date of publication. This means that works we would normally expect to enter the public domain today (i.e., published works whose author died in 1946) will not enter the public domain until much later.

For more information on Public Domain Day and works entering the public domain in other countries this year, visit:

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By Maria Scheid, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries

 

[1] For this reason, authors today may chose to dedicate their work to the public domain through means such as the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedicator (CC0) tool rather than wait for the term of copyright protection to expire.

Copyright duration for musical compositions and sound recordings

This is the second of a 4-part series on issues in music copyright. Part 2 will provide an overview of the duration for musical composition and sound recording copyrights.

As we discussed in part 1 of our series, music copyright is broken down between musical compositions and sound recordings. It is important to keep this distinction in mind when considering the duration of either of these copyright terms, because different sets of laws will govern the duration of the copyright depending on the type of work being considered (sound recording or musical composition) and when that work was created.

Musical Compositions: Copyright duration for fixed musical works, including original compositions and original arrangements or versions of earlier works, follows the same termination timeline as other literary works. Duration for the musical composition copyright will depend on a number of factors including the time in which the work was created (the time in which the work was fixed), the time in which it was published, who created the work, and whether proper renewal and registration was filed. The following tables explain how copyright duration varies:

Created on or after 1/1/1978

Duration

One author Life of the author + 70 years
Joint authorship Life of the last surviving author + 70 years
Work-made-for-hire; anonymous works; pseudonymous works 95 years from publication or 120 years from fixation, whichever is shorter. If an anonymous author is later revealed, life of the author + 70 years.

 

Published before 1/1/1978

Duration

Works published before 1/1/1923 In the public domain
Works published on or after 1/1/1923 and before 1/1/1964 + proper renewal (including registration) filed 95 years from publication
Works published on or after 1/1/1923 and before 1/1/1964 + proper renewal (including registration) NOT filed In the public domain
Works published on or after 1/1/1964 and before 1/1/1978 95 years from publication

 

Created but not published before 1/1/1978

Duration

All works In no case does copyright expire before 12/31/2002.
Not published on or before 1/1/1978 and on or after 12/31/2002. Use same rules for works created on or after 1/1/1978 (from chart 1 above), but in no case will copyright expire before 12/31/2002.
Meanwhile published on or after 1/1/1978 and on or before 12/31/2002. Use same rules for works created on or after 1/1/1978 (from chart 1 above), but in no case will copyright expire before 12/31/2047.

Prior iterations of U.S. copyright law required published works to contain a notice including either © or ℗ (for sound recordings), the year of first publication, and the name of the copyright owner.  Works created on or after 3/1/1989 no longer need to contain a notice, but earlier works are still bound by the requirement. To see how compliance and noncompliance with notice requirement affect copyright duration, see Peter B. Hirtle’s Public Domain chart.

Sound Recordings: Sound recordings were not granted federal copyright protection until the passage of the Sound Recording Act of 1971. As a result, the law governing the duration of a sound recording copyright will vary depending on the time in which the work was created.

For works created on or after 2/15/1972, copyright duration mirrors the general rules that we see above for musical compositions created on of after 1/1/1978.

Created on or after 2/15/1972

Duration

One author Life of the author + 70 years
Joint authorship Life of the last surviving author + 70 years
Work-made-for-hire; anonymous works; pseudonymous works 95 years from publication or 120 years from fixation, whichever is shorter.If an anonymous author is later revealed, life of the author + 70 years.

Like musical compositions, sound recordings made on or after 2/15/1972 must also comply with proper renewal, registration, and notice requirements.

Works published on or after 2/15/1972

Duration

Works published on or after 2/15/1972 and before 1/1/1978 + proper notice filed 95 years from publication
Works published on or after 2/15/1972 and before 1/1/1978 + proper notice NOT filed In the public domain
Works published on or after 1/1/1978 and before 3/1/1989 + proper notice NOT filed + subsequent registration NOT filed In the public domain
Works published on or after 1/1/1978 and before 3/1/1989 + proper notice filed Use same rules for works created on or after 1/1/1978 (from chart 1 above).
Works published on or after 3/1/1989 Use same rules for works created on or after 1/1/1978 (from chart 1 above).

Works created prior to 2/15/1972, will be governed by state law. Protection typically comes from state statutes, state copyright common law, misappropriation, or unfair competition.

Traditionally, common law protection ceases at the time of the publication of the work, though state law protection may still exist under a separate property right or theory of unfair competition. Following the 1976 Copyright Act, “publication” of sound recordings under federal law included the public distribution or sale of those phonorecords, but not the public performance or display of the work. The Act, however, only applies to those sound recordings made on or after 2/15/1972.  As to sound recordings made prior to 2/15/1972, states may define what is required for publication under their own law, and may specify whether publication of pre-1972 sound recordings is required to cease state law protection.

Because copyright duration for sound recordings could be potentially indefinite under state law, Congress set the latest date for protection as 2/15/2067. After that point all sound recording created before 2/15/1972, if they have not done so already (California, for example, provides for exclusive ownership in a sound recording until 2/15/2047) will enter into the public domain.

*Termination of Transfer: It is also important to keep in mind that the duration of the grant of a copyright may be affected by the termination of transfer right provided in the Copyright Act. For more information on this right see part 3 of our series on music copyright in which we discuss how the termination of transfer right works.

This blog has provided an overview of the duration or music copyrights. In the next part of our series we will look closer at the termination of transfer right and how it may be used.

 

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Maria Scheid is a legal intern at the Copyright Resources Center at OSU Libraries and is currently a student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Why Copyright Education?

In May of this year, American Libraries published a letter I wrote about copyright education.  I wrote the letter in response to an opinion piece called “The Copyright Mummies” that Melanie Schlosser, also of OSU, had written in the March issue  about the harm of long copyright terms.  In it, Schlosser argued that we should stop “fetishizing the artist” and recognize that today’s longer copyright terms mostly enrich large entertainment companies and the few, most successful artists, not the average creator and his or her family.  She concluded with a call “to honor the creative process by ensuring a meaningful dialogue between creators—past, present, and future.”

My letter was a partial answer to this question:  Given the reality of long copyright terms and my own pessimism that those terms will get shorter, how do we honor the creative process and have that meaningful dialogue?  Although my answer was aimed toward librarians, it is relevant for all of us.  We need to start that dialogue by knowing something about current copyright law and its impact on our lives and work.

Copyright terms are long these days  (The U.S. Copyright Office has a good circular explaining the complicated laws of copyright duration), and they aren’t likely to be shortened in the foreseeable future.  (See, for example, Eldred v. Ashcroft , holding that a retroactive extension of copyright terms is not unconstitutional.)  Although many postulate about the desirability of going back to shorter copyright terms, long terms are the reality of the copyright world in the U.S. today.

Schlosser is correct that these long terms primarily benefit entertainment and publishing companies.  They also benefit the few creators—and their heirs—who are talented, lucky, and persistent enough to make significant money from their creative work.  As work stays in copyright longer, creators die and their heirs can’t be found.  This problem with orphan works and the lag before work enters the public domain has an effect on the work we do in the future.

Whether or not most of us think of ourselves as artists, we are making copyrighted work all the time when we write papers, make videos for YouTube, or write blog posts.  We’re also reusing copyrighted work as we do these things.  We’re remixing content, quoting books and papers other people have written, trying to get permission to include a chart or diagram in a scholarly paper.  Long copyright terms make all these reuses more problematic.

How do we deal with our position as creators and copyright holders?  How do we decide how relate to other copyright holders?  What can we do with their work legally?  What do we think it is right to do ethically with another’s work?  How do the norms of our professions fit in?  There are a lot of thorny questions with regard to copyright, and the answers are often not clear cut.  But, since we all participate in copyright, let’s start by trying to get a sense of what the law actually says and what are options are at present, and then move on to think about what we wish copyright would be.    The dialogue we hold is between us and the creators of the past, present, and future, and some of that dialogue is with ourselves, as people who participate in both sides of the copyright coin.