Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Legal Theory

Every year, the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School catalogs the copyrighted movies, books, and songs which would be public domain had Congress not retroactively prolonged their copyright in 1976. This year’s crop is a good one. On January 1, 2013, Old Yeller, Minority Report, and even a James Bond book would all be free for common use; the public, having given the authors a monopoly on their works for decades, has presumably earned the right to share in these cultural landmarks by now.

But Congress, in its infinite wisdom, prolonged copyright in 1976. So now, the 1956 book Old Yeller will not be public domain until 2052. I’m sure Fred Gipson, who died in 1973, would have never written his book unless he would have a monopoly on it through 2052. I mean, he did technically write it anyway. And he died before Congress decided to incentivize him further, but I’m sure it was retroactively really great motivation. Or something.

Likewise, Ian Fleming (James Bond) died in 1964 and Philip K. Dick (Minority Report) died in 1982, but their works are still under copyright for another 40 years.

Which is great, because we definitely wouldn’t want to cheat those guys out of profiting off their works. I mean, how is Ian Fleming going to feed his family if there’s only been like five different editions of the book itself, a comic book, and a movie starring Sean Connery? And if he died nearly 50 years ago? If he doesn’t have, say, another 40 years or so to profit off his work, then he might as well have become a chimney sweep.