Copyright changes – let’s fuel our imagination!

Under European Union law all books, poems and paintings pass into the public domain 70 years after the death of their creator.

At midnight last night the works of artists and thinkers who died throughout 1939 slipped out of copyright, meaning they can be reprinted and posted on the internet without incurring royalties.

In addition to Yeats and Freud, the list includes Arthur Rackham, the illustrator whose drawings appeared in early versions of children’s books such as Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the novelist Ford Madox Ford, and Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt.

A selection of works by the artists will be available on Wikisource, a sister website of the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, from today.

Wikimedia, the not-for-profit foundation that runs the sites, hopes that further works will be uploaded by the public throughout the year, providing near-complete and legal archives of the artists’ output.

The end of copyright also means that the works can be freely downloaded onto electronic reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle.

It’s an astonishing shift for us all. Copyright has always been expiring each year on works of writing and music – the key difference now in 2010 and beyond is the ready accessibility, transportability and share-ability of these resources.

On New Year’s Day 2009 the copyright expired on the Popeye cartoon character, following the death of the artist Elzie Segar in 1938. Works by Mikhail Bulgakov and F Scott Fitzgerald are among those due to pass into the public domain on New Year’s Day 2011.

Right at the fingertips of our students!

9 thoughts on “Copyright changes – let’s fuel our imagination!

  1. Pingback: Langwitches Blog » links for 2010-01-07

  2. Australian and US law is also 70 years. Australia used to be 50 years, but it was changed to be the same as America the last time the two countries signed a free trade agreement (1 January 2005).

    Interestingly though, the Australian Copyright Council (www.copyright.org.au) explains on its website that in Australia, material from authors who died before 1955 is already in the public domain, as copyright did not reapply to these works once the lifespan of copyright was extended to 70 years.

    • Note that the US law of 70 years after death only applies to works published by a known author after 1978. Between 1923 and 1977, any works published with a copyright notice (or with copyright renewed) are copyrighted for 95 years from publication.

      US copyright law is in a hell of a messy and complicated state…

  3. Good to know about Popeye! I was going to ask the same question though… The article mentions copyright law in Europe but is that comparable to Australian copyright law? Can we assume those same works are now in the public domain here as well? Is the passing of copyright into the public domain dependent on the law in the country of the content creator, or is it still goverened by laws in each country?

    • This is the question that burns in our minds doesn’t it?

      I’ve done a hunt and found the following from the Australian Copyright Council QA0578: “You treat the foreign material as if it were made or first published in Australia; if something from overseas is being used in Australia, Australian law applies, regardless of where or when the work was created.”

      So 70 years are up ~ seems we’re good to go with Popeye!

  4. I’d encourage you to read the Wikimedia UK blog post/press release, which sparked the Telegraph article:

    http://blog.wikimedia.org.uk/2009/12/wikipedia-celebrates-public-domain-day-on-1st-january/

    Unfortunately, the situation in the US is very complicated. Anything before 1923 is in the public domain. However, nothing more is released for quite some time due to the “mickey mouse” copyright changes. See:

    http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/pre1976

    If you want a more complex summary of the worldwide copyright situation (but still far from complete), see:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing

    The constraints this puts on works on the internet are fantastically complex. Where does copyright stand if you’re a UK internet user publishing on a server in the US, and your content is read in every country on the planet? Do you have to obey every single copyright law in the world?

    It will be some time before copyright law becomes sane again, I suspect…

  5. Hey Jude,
    that is good news. I was wondering about material from the US and Aust. Am I right in thinking that the US is 75 years after death? In Aust is it the same as the US? What about material owned by corporations, eg Disney?

    • Time to do some homework on that for sure…we need to be more aware of the possibilities when crafting our learning opportunities for students don’t we?

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