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!