Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2019 Issue

After a 20 Year Wait, Books Are Again Entering the Public Domain

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Co-conspirators Mickey and Sonny.

The year 1923 may not have been the greatest one in literary history, but it brought the first published work by one of the century's most notable writers, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was only 24 years old when he published Three Stories and Ten Poems. The print run was around 300 copies. His later works would require more.

 

In the southern continent of America, another great twentieth century writer published his first work, Fervor de Buenos Aires. It, too, was published in 300 copies. Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges may well be South America's greatest writer of the century.

 

Kahlil Gibran was an unknown in 1923 when he published The Prophet, a bestseller to this day. Robert Frost was already established, though not yet the icon he would become, when he published New Hampshire. It included Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Winston Churchill was an established politician and writer, though his true greatness was yet to be realized in 1923 when he published The World Crisis. F. Scott Fitzgerald was between This Side of Paradise and his greatest novel, The Great Gatsby, in 1923 when he published the short story The Vegetable, which was made into a play. It flopped. Zelda wrote that many in the audience were bored or offended, some walking out. Scott became depressed and drank, the play serving as yet another excuse for him to drink.

 

As recently as December, if you had quoted extensively from these books, or anything else first published in America in 1923, you could have been sued for copyright infringement. Now, you may quote at will. You can even publish your own edition and not have to worry whether any of these long deceased authors, their heirs, or those who bought the rights to their works, will sue you. They can't. They are now in the public domain. The copyrights have expired. After a hiatus of 20 years, old books are once again making their way into the public domain. On January 1, 2019, books published in 1923 became public property. On January 1, 2020, the same will be true of books first published in 1924, and so on.

 

The previous year, 1922, had seen some major works first published, including James Joyce's Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. They slipped into the public domain in 1997. Then, for 20 years, time stood still. Nothing became public again until January 1 last. What happened? You can place the blame for the long wait on Sonny Bono and Mickey Mouse.

 

In his post-Cher days, Sonny Bono became a congressman from California. He represented a district with show business celebrities, which Mickey Mouse certainly is. It's a bit unfair to malign Mickey. It was his corporate master, the Disney Company, that was much responsible for the long delay. In the 1990s, Disney recognized that Mickey, who first appeared in the cartoon Steamboat Willy in 1928, was approaching the public domain. They pushed for a delay, and with Sonny's help, they convinced Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. It increased the term of copyrights from 75 to 95 years. That is why for the past 20 years, no copyrighted works have made their way into the public domain. Now the annual release of copyrights has finally started again, and each year, we can expect a new crop of works to pass into the public domain. At least we can expect that unless Disney and Mickey step in before 2023 and convince Congress to extend copyright protection again.

 

This annual process will continue until the last copyright granted prior to 1978 expires. That will be on January 1, 2073. For books published after 1977, a different rule applies. For those books, the copyright does not expire until the end of the author's lifetime plus 70 years. Under this rule, the length of copyrights becomes variable, books written earlier in life having longer copyright periods than those published later in life. Hemingway's Three Stories would have been protected until 2032 under this rule, 109 years, but his later works also would have had their protections expire in 2032. On the other hand, Gibran's Prophet would have lost its protection in 2002. He died three decades before Hemingway. As for Mickey Mouse, his copyright would have lasted until 2037. Technically, Mickey never died, but Walt Disney did, in 1966.

 

So how long before the copyright expires on Sonny's I Got You Babe, released in 1965? Sonny Bono died in 1998. January 1, 2069? Trick question. I Got You Babe was a duet with his then wife, Cher. The copyright expiration for a work by multiple artists is the date of death of the last survivor plus 70 years. Cher is still very much alive, and hopefully will be for a long time to come. This question is unanswerable at present.


Posted On: 2019-02-01 08:53
User Name: PeterReynolds

This article isn't very clear. You have to read several paragraphs into the text before it starts to become apparent that the author is talking about the very unusual copyright law of the United States of America. In the EU, the death+70 rule has already been in in effect for 25 years or so, and almost every country in the world apart from USA already has a death+50 or death+70 rule in place, now, not in 2073. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries'_copyright_lengths


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Documents, The Library of Dawson Turner<br>4 March 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Beck (Henry). <i>London Underground Transport,</i> 1934. Iconic original poster. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Turner (Dawson, 1775-1858). ‘Journal of a Three Weeks' Tour, with Thos. Phillips’, 1815. Unpublished illustrated manuscript. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Sander (Frederick). <i>Reichenbachia,</i> 4 volumes, 1st edition, 1886-95. Ex libris Sir David Salomons (1797-1873). £3,000 to £5,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Documents, The Library of Dawson Turner<br>4 March 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Mary I, Queen of England (1516-1558). Illuminated grant of arms on vellum to John Hombreston, 1554. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Restoration London. Album of important autographs, c.1660-90. Including a letter from Sir William Petty to John Evelyn. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Levellers. <i>The Womens Petition to Over Cromwell,</i> 1651. Extremely rare broadside, 2 copies in libraries. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Documents, The Library of Dawson Turner<br>4 March 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Catherine of Siena. <i>Lettere devotissime,</i> Venice, 1562. Ex libris Giacomo Castelvetro (1546-1616), with marginalia. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Kane (Brig. Gen. Richard, 1666-1732). ‘A Plan of the Town, Mountain and Bay of Gibraltar’, 1712. Pen and ink and watercolour. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Costa (Emanuel Mendes da). <i>A Natural History of Fossils,</i> 1st edition, 1757. £600 to £800.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>Printed Books, Maps & Documents, The Library of Dawson Turner<br>4 March 2020</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Blaeu (Johannes). <i>Britannia Anglo-Saxonum,</i> c.1646. £700 to £1,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Donne (John). <i>Devotions,</i> 1st edition, 1624. Contemporary vellum gilt, £700 to £1,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, Mar. 4:</b> Baden-Powell (Robert). <i>Scouting for Boys,</i> 1st edition, 1908. £800 to £1,200.

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