Monday, January 01, 2018

Your Public Domain Report for 2018

Hey gang! It's time for Public Domain Day again, where we list all of the music, film, books, and other pieces of art leaving copyright today. And here's that list again, just like last year:

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Happy New Year.

Although the Framers of the Constitution only gave Congress power to grant copyrights and patents "for a limited time," repeated extensions have made sure that nothing has entered the public domain in the United States since January 1, 1979. Today makes nearly forty years since that happened.

Copyright in this country had a 28-year maximum back during the George Washington administration. By the 20th century that had become a very reasonable 6 years. Then the 1976 Copyright Act and the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act  ensured that big media company's like Disney and Sony got to keep their intellectual property out of the public domain forever.

The big news is that the public domain clock is due to unfreeze in exactly one year, on January 1, 2019, unless Congress extends copyright terms again. Left to their own devices, Congress will certainly do that. But they haven't written that law yet, and there's time to lobby. Call your senators and representatives this year, and tell them not to extend copyright any more.

In the meantime, as every year, I have to write a post about what would be entering public domain today. What are we missing?

If Not for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

Today is the day Casablanca should enter the public domain. Actually, under the law when it was made, it should have become public domain in 1999. The 1976 extension delayed that until today, but that apparently was still not enough. We'll always have Paris, if by "always" we mean "never."

This is also the day the public would get the rights to Bambi, Flying Tigers with John Wayne, Now, Voyager, The Palm Beach Story, Across the Pacific, Andy Hardy's Double Life, The Courtship of Andy Hardy, noir classic The Glass Key and horror favorite Cat People, musical For Me and My Gal, In Which We Serve, the original live-action The Jungle BookMrs. Miniver, Orson Welles's Magnificent Ambersons, Lon Chaney in The Mummy's Tomb, My Sister Eileen, My Favorite Blonde, The Pride of the Yankees, The Road to Morocco, Saboteur, The Talk of the Town, This Gun's for Hire, To Be or Not to Be, Tortilla Flat, Woman of the Year with Tracy and Hepburn, and James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Ronald Reagan's finest work as an actor, Kings Row, would become public domain today. So would George Gershwin's classic Christmas musical Holiday Inn (which I will spend part of this New Year's Day watching, as usual), and all the songs in it, including "White Christmas."

Unlike the last few New Year's Days, today would not see many major cartoon characters enter the public domain, mostly because those classic characters would be in the public domain already. The big exception is Tweety Bird. Thought you say a puddy tat? Not for another twenty years.

Most of the great Golden Age comic-book heroes would also be in the public domain already, but today they would be joined by various classic sidekicks (like Wonder Woman's pal Etta Candy, villains (such as Two-Face and Shade), and minor colleagues: Guardian, Metallo, Mr. Terrific,  Kid Eternity, Mary Marvel, Robotman, and Wildcat.

But on the science fiction front, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics would become free to use today.

In literature, Albert Camus's The Stranger should become public domain today, as should his Myth of Sisyphus. C.S. Lewis also has a fiction/non-fiction double-header, with his Preface to Paradise Lost and his classic Screwtape Letters. Raymond Chandler's The High Window and Ellery Queen's Calamity Town should leave copyright today. So should Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon, Steinbeck's The Moon is Down, O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet  and Jean Anouilh's Antigone. We could also look forward to Eliot's Little Gidding, Wallace Stevens's Parts of the World, and Langston Hughes's Shakespeare in Harlem.

In the world of music, "White Christmas" is the big headline. But Duke Ellington classics "C-Jam Blues" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" would enter public domain, too, as would Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." Other ontributions to the great American songbook by Johhny Mercer, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Mack Gordon, and Johnny Burke would become free for all to use. And there would be plenty of classical music, too: Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and works by Britten, Barber, Schoenberg, Kachuturian, and those crazy Russians Stravinsky, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev.

Not the richest year overall, since most of the West was pretty busy doing other things in 1942, but still a pretty respectable haul. Still, we'll have to wait until 2038 for those works, and longer if Congress passes another extension in the next 12 months.

If not for the 1976 Copyright Act:

A mother lode of classic movies were scheduled to enter public domain today, under the law at the time they were made: West Side Story, Breakfast at Tiffany's, La Dolce Vita, Judgement at Nuremberg, The Children's Hour, Last Year at Marienbad and The Hustler. Copyright was also originally set to expire on One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Absent-Minded Professor, The Guns of Navarone, Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii, Splendor in the Grass, The Parent Trap, Babes in Toyland, Divorce Italian Style, El Cid with Charlton Heston, Five Minutes to Live, Flower Drum Song, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, King of Kings, The Misfits, Mysterious Island, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Raisin in the Sun, Town Without Pity, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and last but not least, Kurosawa's Yojimbo.

Joseph Heller's classic novel Catch-22 should enter public domain today, as should fiction by
Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Agatha Christie, Stanislaw Lem, J.G. Ballard, Patricia Highsmith, Poul Anderson, Brian Aldiss, Margaret Lawrence, H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Theodore Sturgeon, Iris Murdoch, Evelyn Waugh, and Harold Robbins. Let's not forget Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, Muriel Spark's Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mister Biswas, John Le Carre's fiction debut A Call for the Dead, and, oh yes, J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.

James and the Giant Peach should enter public domain today, but what would happen if a beloved children's story became public domain? So should Beckett's Happy Days, Genet's The Screens, and Tennessee Williams's Night of the Iguana. And let's not leave out three important and influential non-fiction works: Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, Marshall McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy, and Janes Jacobs's classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

It should be a great year music, with tunes by Sinatra, Elvis, Judy Collins, John Coltrane, Chuck Berry, Judy Garland, Roy Orbison, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Cash, Count Basie, Sun Ra (and his Arkestra), Patsy Cline, Rachmaninoff, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini, and Willie Nelson becoming publicly available. 

But all of those works will stay firmly in the hands of Sony, Disney, Time Warner, etc., until at least 2057. Someone needs another 39 years of royalties from Moon River, apparently.

What will become public a year from today:

But let's keep our eye on the prize. The current law is not changed (and you should expect Congress and the lobbying industry to try), works first publishes in 1923 will become public domain in the US next January 1. The public-domain clock, which has been stuck in place since January 1, 1979, is set to come unstuck. (Yes, this means that everything published in 1922 is public domain but nothing published in 1923 is, and it has been that way for 39 years now.)

If we can keep the lobbyists at bay, Robert Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," the one that ends "And miles to go before I sleep," will leave copyright next New Year's Day. So will Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and "Emperor of Ice-Cream." Likewise, Yeats's collection The Cat and the Moon, and various poems by Cummings, Djuna Barnes, St. Vincent Millay, Edward Arlington Robinson, Vachel Lindsay, and William Carlos Williams.

Jean Toomer's Cane is due to become public, and Hemingway's first chapbook Three Stories and Ten Poems. Willa Cather's A Lost Lady; Tarzan and the Golden Lion; Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet; Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities; Agatha Christie's Murder on the Links. Works by Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, P.G. Wodehouse, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Jean Cocteau. Beloved Czech classic the Good Soldier Svejk. Classic silent films by Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Works that are classic, and already almost a century old; works that are forgotten, but cannot be republished and rediscovered because it's been so long that the copyright owners can no longer be found and so there's an, ahem, Catch-22: you can't republish the work without paying for permission, but you can't find the person you need to pay.

We can begin a return to copyright sanity in one short year, if we just keep our lawmakers from being crazy.

Whose woods these are I think I know: 
They'll likely keep them private, though.

cross-posted from Dagblog (all comments welcome there, not here)

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