On Writing,  publishing

Public Domain Day

I Know… Copyright!…

But hang on, it’s interesting, honest, because for the first time in a lot of years, major works are entering the public domain.

Now granted, for some countries, this is a normal thing. For example, in Canada, any author who died in 1968 has works entering the public domain now because of life plus 50 year rule.

But the United States has had some pretty messed up copyright laws since it was founded and copyright was put in the Constitution. Now finally, everything from 1923 has dropped into public domain and that will continue to move forward each year, one year at a time, until it catches up with the life-plus seventy years law.

Of course, for the longest time, there were a lot of works that were in public domain since the author didn’t comply with some requirements, like copyright notice or 28 year renewal.

THAT IS ALL GONE NOW. Thankfully. I can’t imagine trying to train indie writers about what was needed for copyright under those old rules. I shudder at the thought since modern rules are easy, are automatic, and writers still don’t want to learn them.

So if you want a good overview of this topic, Duke Law did a clear one that most everyone can make sense out of . Here is the link.

Public Domain Day.


  • Michael Kingswood

    “But the United States has had some pretty messed up copyright laws since it was founded and copyright was put in the Constitution.”

    Hi Dean,

    I agree the current copyright standards are AFU. But I’ll confess I haven’t researched too heavily into what the original Copyright statutes held at the Founding. Seems to me the IP clauses in the Constitution are good and valuable; it’s just the inevitable corruption that will always come to a human system that has fuggered them up.

    But then, I will again point to my lack of historical research in this matter.

    What is it that existed back in the days of the Founding that you consider jacked up?


    • dwsmith

      Actually, Michael, the copyright laws now are the best they have ever been in this country. We used to be the pirates of the planet because of our laws. And authors and estates lost control all the time because they didn’t follow some arcane rule. We finally joined the rest of the world in 1978 and then made a few changes that froze stuff for the last 20 years for the mess here to clean up some. So right now, the rules here are like the rest of the worlds (with a few minor exceptions) and thus good.

      The founders put copyright in the Constitution because they knew it would help in the creation of new ideas and works of art in the young country. But they made the term only first publication and then protection was gone. Author could make money only off the first publication and then anyone could take it, for the most part. (Major generalizations here, but you get the idea.)

      For a long time we had notice requirements which meant that if a publisher left off the copyright notice through no fault of the author, the work automatically dropped into the public domain. (That ended in 1978 as well.)

      And then an author had to renew the copyright every 28 years and could only do it twice and it didn’t get renewed, which over 90% of works published did not, the work fell into the public domain, but no one could ever figure out easily which were renewed and which were not. (This is still affecting a lot of works today, but is almost cleaned up with the 1978 laws.)

      Every writer should understand all this, but I wager almost no one reading this does, or will bother to go learn. Drive me nuts. Like a brain surgeon not bothering to learn what a brain looks like.