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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Congress' crime against literature (and old movies)

As I would assume that most people who hang around a blog devoted to an American cult writer would be interested in reading, permit me to bring up a pet peeve -- the decision by the U.S. Congress to continually extend the terms of U.S. copyright law, thereby keeping almost everything written after 1922 or so under copyright, and thus making it illegal to freely reproduce the works on the Internet.

The same copyright law applies, of course, to old movies, old music recordings, and so on. Books at least generally have a pretty good shelf life, but there are plenty of old movies that will likely rot into oblivion because they don't have enough commercial appeal to be made into DVDs. Of course, there are many authors who will likely be forgotten who might get some deserved attention if their books became available.

The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University does a good job of covering these issues. It publishes an annual list of works that would have entered to public domain if U.S. copyright laws that were in effect until 1978 remained in effect. This year's list of well-known books by dead authors includes On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, Day of Infamy by Walter Lord. There's a list of movies, too, and I would think that most of the movies by Orson Welles that influenced RAW would be freely available by now.

One of the Duke professors who is a co-director of the center, James Boyle, has released free electronic versions of his latest book, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind; you can download PDF or HTML versions here. (The HTML version formats fine on Kindle).

Jesse Walker has a blog post about the Center's lastest list. The latest copyright extension approved by Congress start expiring in five years, Jesse points out. 

I'll just point out that Congress' corruption on this issue -- lawmakers were bought off by corporate interests such as Disney -- particularly hurt the poor, who can less readily afford to buy books, buy old movies etc. Last time, "progressive" members of Congress were just as eager to be bought off as conservatives. Will history repeat itself?

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