Copyrights Are Expiring Again in the USA After a 20 Year Freeze

Yesterday all copyrighted works published in 1923 fell into the public domain, with only a few exceptions.

Internet grassroot organizations and companies like Google and Reddit now oppose copyright extension. In 2012, these groups stopped the Internet filtering bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act. Today’s opponents of copyright extensions are better funded and more organized than those who tried to sop the 1998 copyright twenty-year extension.

The Gershwin family trust, grandchildren of Oscar Hammerstein, Disney and others had supported copyright extension.

On January 1, 2024, Steamboat Willie and the original Mickey Mouse will be in the public domain. The copyrights to Superman, Batman, Disney’s Snow White, and early Looney Tunes characters will all fall into the public domain between 2031 and 2035.

Later versions of Mickey Mouse will still be protected.

Now Public Domain

Movies :

Cecil B. DeMille’s silent version of The Ten Commandments
Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, including that scene where he dangles off a clock tower, and his Why Worry?
Silent films: including Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality and Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim
Short films by Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and Our Gang (later Little Rascals)
Cartoons including Felix the Cat (the character first appeared in a 1919 cartoon)
Marlene Dietrich’s film debut, a bit part in the German silent comedy The Little Napoleon; also the debuts of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Fay Wray

Bambi by Felix Salten, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. It was the source of Disney’s animated film.

9 thoughts on “Copyrights Are Expiring Again in the USA After a 20 Year Freeze”

  1. Politics is the art of the possible.

    There are big, powerful entities like Disney who really, really don’t want some of their stuff to be public domain.

    So… give them what they want. All the claims about freedom and logic about the correct law doesn’t matter, so just give the major powers what they want.

    Copyright expires after X years (I’d go for 50, but whatever) and then you can extend it for another 10 years for a fee. And again for another fee. And again for another fee…

    Make it $10k or something. For Disney that’s effectively free. They’d pay their lawyers more than that just to do the paperwork, so the fee is nothing.

    But for all those obscure songs or novels from the 1920s and 30s that are currently untouchable because nobody knows who or what owns them? No renewal gets paid and they are public now.

    The big companies stay happy. So they go along with it. 99% of stuff actually goes into public domain, so we don’t have the current drag on culture that is 95% of the complaints about copyright.

    Someone whose grand-dad did in fact write the Happy-Birthday song? Well, are you making enough money on it that you can pay $10k every decade? If not then you should just give up. If it isn’t worth $1k/y then nobody is actually depending on this to support their family.

    Everyone wins (to within 95-99% of a win anyway).

  2. The copyrights to Superman, Batman, Disney’s Snow White, and early Looney Tunes characters will all fall into the public domain between 2031 and 2035.

    You mean like how they were all supposed to fall into the public domain before, but Disney lobbied for what was called the Mickey Mouse Copyright in Congress to get it extended. You honestly think Disney won’t pull that stunt again and the Congresscritters won’t spread their legs open wide for the Disney lobbyists in the process — just like the last time?

  3. I sort of play the ukulele… The copyright laws mean that if a ukulele group wants to play some old tune somebody has to put together a “songbook” which is just some chords written down next to a version of the lyrics. Now, you may think, well why don’t you just buy the music? Well it’s often not even available or out of print. Now, to make matters even worse, it’s dangerous to to play even these in a business location like a restaurant or coffee shop unless that place pays a fat fee to ASCAP. It’s insanity to have 100 years of copyright protection. I say it should be 50 years or when the music goes out of print which ever comes first.

  4. When the works owned by some big corporate fat cat (like Disney’s) become public domain, then I’ll be enthused.

    They have the will and coin to purchase more than one politician and a bunch of sneaky law changes.

  5. Hallelujah. It’s self destructive for a society to permit ownership of intangibles to persist forever.

    Imagine if using anything based on Shakespeare required royalty payments to the Shakespeare estate (or even the Sir Francis Bacon estate, if you believe he wrote them). Or, moving past copyrights, consider if patents still were applicable on penicillin, steel production, or the wheel. Rigidly enforced, what a great way this would be to freeze technological innovation somewhere in the mid to late dark ages (maybe the early renaissance?).

    Although copyright currently extends 70 years from the author’s death, even Mark Twain only argued for 50 years (although he professed to believe it should be forever). 50 remains plenty of time to take care of the writer’s surviving spouse, children, and probably even grandchildren, for life.

    As things currently stand, I’d argue for reducing it to 20, with a steeply graduated fee system for extending copyright each ten years thereafter, with a limit of 3 renewals. It costs me $35$ or $55 (depending on what I am doing) to copyright my books. If one were to assume I have thirty years left then in half a century my estate would have to make the determination as to whether it wanted to renew (say for a 2008 USD $3,500 equivalent. Then $35,000 for a second extension, and $350,000 for the final extension.

    Of course, if advanced life extension becomes a thing, the “how many years after death” part would have to change as well.

  6. Watch for an extension and clawback amendment to be snuck into some bill in the next few months. Big copyright is relentless, and they’ve got the money to buy Congressmen by the score.

  7. Should be no more than 70 years. However, the use should abide by some guidelines. The use should still knowledge the company or people that produced it…if not obvious. And advertisers should not be able to use the characters or tunes to push their products.

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