Happy contrafactual public domain day (what you've lost)

Jennifer Jenkins sez, "What could have been entering the public domain in the US on January 1, 2012? Under the law that existed until 1978... Works from 1955. Asimov's The End of Eternity, Nabokov's Lolita, the play Inherit the Wind, Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, Disney's Lady and the Tramp, Rebel Without a Cause, The Seven Year Itch, the music for Blue Suede Shoes and Tutti Frutti, and Laurence Olivier's film version of Richard III... What is entering the public domain today? Nothing."


    1. That is big news. Of course, Cory’s a man of the world. He lives in London, so a US-centric view doesn’t come naturally.

    2. I think Cory’s assuming the Boing Boing readership has already heard about the list of works entering the public domain in Europe, which came out yesterday (at least in the US Eastern time zone).

      1. I claim prior restraint on all words that I have used before. I can easily demonstrate that I have used the words “hereby”, “comment” and “public domain”. Furthermore I’d like to trademark the phrase “You’re welcome!”

        Pay up.

  1. Piracy (the nautical kind) is defined as a form of robbery – where the goods of a vessel are prevented from reaching their destination.

    If all copyrighted works are destined to be released to the public domain, then surely any act that prevents the completeion of this journey can reasonably be called an act of ‘piracy’.

    Surely a far more accurate use of the word, than  applying it to the unautorised duplication and unautorised distribution of said unautorised duplications of copyrighted ‘goods’.

    [Inspired by pepik, I also release this comment into the public domain.]

  2. Just this morning I came up with a joke so bad that I found myself wondering if there was a license under which something could be freely reproduced, on strict condition that the source would receive no credit whatsoever.

  3. Wait I am under the impression that Baden-Powell’s “Scouting for Boys” enters the Public Domain today?  Which is exciting because– hey, lets start an inclusive secular Scouting group for all kids!  Yay utopian survivalists!

    1. We already have that sort of thing over here in Europe, and in the rest of the world, really.  It’s crazy how the World Organisation of Scout Movements is so much more awesome than the American organisation.

      1. Yeah, it is pretty distressing; I mean, I got kicked out as a kid for not being “morally straight”– an atheist– & looking back on that I’m like– what the hell?

    2. Just don’t use the word “Scout” in the name. US Congress granted the Boy Scouts of America exclusive use of the word (not just trademarked, there’s a congressional charter exempting them from the trademark process). The only reason the Girl Scouts still exist is because when the Boy Scouts sued them, it was shown that Girl Scouts predated. BSA has been quite successful in suing orgs that use the word scout in their name. They’ve won at the federal appeals level.

      1. Oh man, what the HELL. That is alright anyhow– I mean, it isn’t alright to have congress telling “private” organizations that they can own words, let alone ones that openly discriminate (against children!) but I was thinking of going with “Ranger,” get some DnD/Tolkien flavor in there.

  4. I hate retroactive legislation… it should have been that works first copyrighted IN 1976 or later that get the longer term of copyright, NOT existing works.

    1. The word ‘should’ is questionable. But we know what you mean.

      But I wonder if anybody’s plans (business or otherwise) for the use of certain works expected to be in the public domain, were ruined by the 1978 legislation. For example, somebody pre-1978 might have invested in printing presses or something, in anticipation.  Who could they sue for damages caused by that retroactivity?

  5. comment for boing by edthehippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  6. Yay for living in a country with (reasonably) sensible copyright laws! All these and more are now free for all, from my POV…

  7. That does suck, the retrospective aspect mentioned above by @manicbassman makes an interesting point. I’ve studied copyright from several aspects but it’s such a garbled, complicated, de-centralised mess that it really does need global reform, unfortunately I don’t see this reform ending well; and the garbled mess is likely better than where it’s headed.

    © Copyright 2012 Nathan Hornby.  All rights reserved.

    (Actually I’ve never read the comments policy, maybe this comment is owned by Happy Mutants LLC – in which case I apologise for the fraudulent declaration of my comments license)

  8. This is why one of those things I’m going ot have explicitly spelled out. I die. Anything that i haven’t released into public domain that i hold copyright over gets released for whoever’s remixing/useage pleasure.

    Not that any of you care about Random Internet User (number to big to write) but I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

    Edit: Derp
    @sagodjur has the right of it.

    1. Always assumed anything posted here was BoingBoing’s property (licensed creative commons.)

      Ah well. What the hay. Commentor posts released to Creative Commons for Five Years whereupon said posts enter Public Domain.)

  9. So, I think I misunderstand. If the copyright term is 70 years after the author’s death, shouldn’t works published by authors who died in 1941 be entering the public domain?

    Or is there another wrinkle?

    Oh I see. The Cornell Copyright information stipulates that works published between 1923 and 1964 with a notice, and a renewal are copyrighted until 95 years after the publication date– which is, at a minimum, 2018.

    That sucks

  10. imagine if congress had made a law that retroactively changed the income tax rate, or retroactively changed the length of the statute of limitations, or retroactively changed the terms of sentences for crimes… there would be an outrage… yet this is what they did here, they retroactively changed the length of copyright and nobody complained about it as no one person was injured, it was the Public Domain that was injured, yet no-one spoke out against it. Loads of people were in favour of it, but no-one was seriously looking at the loss for the general public.

    It was Lawrence Lessig who lost out in Eldred vs Ashcroft which attempted to challenge the constitutionality of the act in question, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, when he failed to follow the Supreme Court’s argument and did not catch on to who exactly was being injured:


    so we have lost the opportunity to get this monstrous law repealed as we lost it in the highest court.

    How I lost the Big One by Lawrence Lessig:


    start quote:—————————————————————————-

    There were two points in this argument when I should have seen where the court was going. The first was a question by Kennedy, who observed,

    Well, I suppose implicit in the argument that the ’76 act, too, should have been declared void, and that we might leave it alone because of the disruption, is that for all these years the act has impeded progress in science and the useful arts. I just don’t see any empirical evidence for that.

    Here follows my clear mistake. Like a professor correcting a student, I answered,

    Justice, we are not making an empirical claim at all. Nothing in our copyright clause claim hangs upon the empirical assertion about impeding progress. Our only argument is, this is a structural limit necessary to assure that what would be an effectively perpetual term not be permitted under the copyright laws.

    That was a correct answer, but it wasn’t the right answer. The right answer was to say that there was an obvious and profound harm. Any number of briefs had been written about it.
    Kennedy wanted to hear it. And here was where Don Ayer’s advice should have mattered. This was a softball; my answer was a swing and a miss.

    end quote —————————————————————

      1. you know a noddy guide of allowed tags such as slashdot gives when posting would be a boon to people posting comments…

    1. “imagine if congress had made a law that retroactively changed the income tax rate, or retroactively changed the length of the statute of limitations, or retroactively changed the terms of sentences for crimes… there would be an outrage… yet this is what they did here, they retroactively changed the length of copyright”

      They also took works that were *already* in the public domain, and yanked them out.  It’s a case currently being decided by SCOTUS, not sure when a result will be announced.  Very important case:


    1. You can do whatever you want with it. You can reprint it. You can give it the leather bound, gilt edged binding it deserves. You can upload it and download it, for free, from places like archive.org You can write sequels to it, turn it into a play, or a movie or a game. You can give a copy to a friend, or many copies to many friends.
      And no one will stop you. No one will come after you with cease and desist orders, or call you a pirate.

  11. If the maximum copyright term were retroactively shortened to 40 years (say, 20+20, with a grace period after the change for renewing works in the 20-to-40-years-old range), what would enter the US public domain?

    Everything — everything — up to 1971.

    That would include… well, let’s look at Box Office Mojo’s inflation-adjusted BO chart. Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music, The Ten Commandments, Doctor Zhivago. Every feature-length Disney animated movie from Snow White to The Aristocats, along with shorts like Three Little Pigs and The Band Concert. Most classic Looney Tunes cartoons — the Hunting Trilogy, One Froggy Evening, What’s Opera Doc?, Duck Amuck, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, forty Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner shorts. All 114 Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry shorts.

    Going back to live-action film, there’s Ben-Hur, The Graduate, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady. Now let’s look at AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Wizard of Oz, On the Waterfront, Singin’ in the Rain, It’s a Wonderful Life, Sunset Boulevard, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Some Like It Hot, All About Eve, The African Queen, Psycho. Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, just for kicks: Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange. Every Marx Brothers movie. And Now for Something Completely Different. The Producers. Arsenic and Old Lace. MASH.

    That’s just film. Novels? The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Catch-22, Animal Farm, 1984. Lolita and Gone With the Wind, again. The Chronicles of Narnia. Five Judy Blume books. Every non-posthumous Little House book. Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. Every Dr. Seuss book up to The Lorax. Roald Dahl’s early books, up to Fantastic Mr Fox. The Outsiders. Lord of the Flies.

    Comic books! Action Comics #1-407, Detective Comics #1-418, Fantastic Four #1-117. More importantly, commercially speaking, the characters. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Daredevil, Professor X, the original X-Men lineup. Most famous enemies of the above — Mr. Freeze is arguable, I guess, seeing as the version in “Heart of Ice” is almost a different character. Basically everything from the Golden and Silver Ages.

    How about music? If roughly the entire Beatles catalog isn’t enough, there’s most of Elvis’s biggest hits, Led Zeppelin’s first four albums, every 1960s protest song, every Lovin’ Spoonful single, the Jackson 5’s “Greatest Hits,” Rock Around the Clock, Chuck Berry’s biggest hits, every Buddy Holly song, American Pie. Loads more that someone who knows more than me about music can name.

    Television? Let’s warm up with the cartoons. The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, Yogi Bear, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Spider-Man, the first Astro Boy series, Gigantor, Tomorrow’s Joe. Not as impressive as the other fields, but not bad. We’d still have to wait a few more years for Yamato and five more for Gundam 0079 before we hit the 1980s.

    Now for the live-action TV! I Love Lucy, Star Trek: The Original Series, The Prisoner. Doctor Who’s first eight seasons, including all of what exists of the first two Doctors and Three’s first two seasons, the latter of which introduced the Master. A couple seasons of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson — no more, for the same reason as Doctor Who. Howdy Doody, the original Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Bewitched, Batman, The Honeymooners, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the original Dragnet, The Avengers, Gilligan’s Island, Get Smart, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show. 2.5 seasons of Sesame Street and 4.5 of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. 26 episodes of All in the Family, 38 of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and a crapload of soap operas and game shows.


    All of that would be public domain with a forty-year duration. And four and a half years ago, Cory reported on a study indicating an optimal term of fourteen (14) years. If that were the case, we could change 1971 in that second paragraph to 1997. As in, Buffy the Vampire Slayer up through “Ted,” Titanic, The Fifth Element, Cube, Men in Black, Gattaca, Austin Powers, The End of Evangelion, Princess Mononoke, Sailor Stars, Revolutionary Girl Utena, GaoGaiGar, Dragon Ball GT, El-Hazard 2, Martian Successor Nadesico, Final Fantasy VII, Quake II, Riven, Symphony of the Night, and HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE.

    Oh, and everything that preceded any of those.

    God damn.

  12. Can we get a Kickstarter going as a Superfund to try lobbying Congress with to change copyright to something a little more sane yet public domain isn’t frozen?

    Go back to… oh hell.. even just the pre ’78 law with a provision that copyright can be renewed by the known holder? That way Disney can set a few suits down to keep their catalogs protected (as can anyone else, especially those studios/record lables that still feel they need to protect these now aged bits of Library kit.)

    Wouldn’t have to shorten it to a fifteen year period (which I personally like since even though most studios would demand their catalogs of stuff be kept one never knows.)

    However the depressing thing is anything this fund would put together, disney could match or exceed with pocket change. And that’s just one company of hundreds that would want copyright left as is. Broken and Forever minus a day.

    1. Can we get a Kickstarter going as a Superfund to try lobbying Congress with to change copyright to something a little more sane yet public domain isn’t frozen?

      With a goal of a trillion dollars? You’re bidding against several large industries.

      1. And i pointed out the impossibility of trying to outbid not one but hundreds of corporations with National GDP sized piggybanks at their disposal that like the system just the way it is, or tweaked further down the road so it really is forever minus a day.

  13. Instead of whining, go make some content and reap the millions for the next 95 years.  Or form a corp and be set for 120 years.

    1. Because that’s not what I, as a content creator, want. I don’t want any hypothetical descendants suing people left and right to protect their cash cow I created and they’re not bothering to build on in unique ways.

      I don’t want people to be afraid of taking what i made decades before that point to make their own spinoffs or remixes.

      At the same time I also want to get paid for what I  do, so there’s a balancing point that has to be reached and right now what we have is nowhere near a satisfactory balance point. You don’t have people able to draw from cultural elements that they feel are relevant to them and instead have to look at the nineteenth century (then worry over whether Disney beat them to it and will sue them into a race of who can outlast who in legal fees no matter who’s legally correct. Hint: You won’t win.)

      Oh sure you could always throw the middle finger to Law. I’m sure Fanfiction.net could be shut down with a couple phone calls if anyone of the hundreds of rights holders that site serves as an aggregated infringement claim on could see an angle on how any personal positive would outweigh the collective bad press (assuming there isn’t some sort of agreement in play or that it isn’t covered undr  Fair Use…. but again like with making your own remixed tail of Alice you would have to make sure to avoid Disney Introduced concepts… and even then there’s a chance, slim but still there, they might sue anyway just to scare off any investment money and keep you from bothering them.)

      Someone better versed in the world and Law mind seeing if I’m anywhere close to the mark, or if the tinfoil’s cut bloodflow from my head again.

  14. i initially read that title as counterfactual not contrafactual…i imagine there is some alternate universe where CTEA never passed in the United States and therefore the public domain wasn’t butchered and this article was about all the cool plans people had for reusing these new public domain treasures….

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