Supreme Court rules Congress can re-copyright public domain works

28 05 2012

Congress may take books, musical compositions and other works out of the public domain, where they can be freely used and adapted, and grant them copyright status again, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In a 6-2 ruling, the court ruled that just because material enters the public domain, it is not “territory that works may never exit.” (PDF)

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What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011?

13 03 2011

Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years).  Under those laws, works published in 1954 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2011.

This includes:

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Supremes to decide if public domain works can be re-copyrighted

10 03 2011

The Supreme Court will says it will hear a case considering whether public domain works can be pushed back into the copyright closet. And advocacy groups say that free speech is at stake in this fight. Congress’ decision to uphold an international treaty allowing for public works to be “restored” into copyright will create an atmosphere of uncertainty for libraries, they warn, caretakers of the public domain.

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What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011?

3 01 2011

Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years).  Under those laws, works published in 1954 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2011.

This includes:

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Nothing to celebrate on Public Domain Day 2010 in the US

4 01 2010


What child has not sat starry-eyed around the fire, dreaming of the goodies to come on January 1—Public Domain Day? The thought of new books and movies and music coming out from copyright is enough to send sugarplums dancing through heads, unless you live in the US in 2010. In which case, you have nothing to celebrate, since nothing is entering the public domain this year.

Thanks to various copyright terms extensions over the last four decades, the US is living in the midst of a public domain “donut hole” under which no important works will come out of copyright protection. Before the 1976 Copyright Act reforms, copyright in the US lasted for 28 years, with another 28 if an extension was applied for. Under the old regime, works from 1953 would have entered the public domain this week, works like C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March.

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What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2010?

4 01 2010

Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. (Corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years.) But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years).  Under those laws, works published in 1953 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2010.

This includes:

  • Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
  • C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair (the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia)
  • Walt Disney’s Peter Pan
  • H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds
  • From Here to Eternity (starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed)

Click here for a full discussion and additional works.

Source: Center for the Study of the Public Domain

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Amazon: Google book deal possibly illegal, definitely bad

3 09 2009

This Friday is the deadline for documents to be filed with the court that’s overseeing the Google book settlement, which will absolve the search giant from liability for its book scanning activities and set up an independent entity that will oversee the distribution of e-books from its digital stacks. Amazon, given its sales of both print and e-books, has joined a group that opposes the deal, but that hasn’t stopped it from filing an objection to it individually. Amazon’s lawyers spend over 40 pages arguing why that the deal should be rejected on copyright and antitrust grounds, while throwing in a very explicit admission that it’s bad for its business model.

The proposed settlement arose form a series of lawsuits that accused Google of violating copyrights via its book-scanning agreements with various libraries. The settlement would absolve the company of further claims and set up an independent body, the Books Rights Registry, which would oversee payments for authors arising from Google’s use of the works; the Registry would also have the right to license the digital library to commercial or private entities.

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Text of Complaint in Yahoo v NFL Players, Decision in CBS Interactive v NFL Players, re Fantasy Stats

4 06 2009

Yahoo has sued the NFL Players Union re the use of statistics in fanstasy football games, after Minnesota District Court rules in favor of CBS Interactive in similar suit. CBS decision and Yahoo complaint reproduced below.

Decision Cbs v Nfl

Complaint Yahoo Nfl Pa

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Yahoo blitzes NFL with fantasy football stats lawsuit

3 06 2009

Yahoo has filed a lawsuit against the National Football League demanding access to player stats without having to pay licensing fees. Yahoo argues that player names, bios, and game statistics are not copyrightable information owned by the NFL, and that third parties should be able to make use of it for fantasy football leagues. Given a 2007 ruling on the same topic for Major League Baseball, there’s a good chance that Yahoo will end up taking home the win.

Under the current system, third parties (such as Yahoo) don’t have access to NFL player information for free—the NFL licenses it out for millions of dollars so that only certain fantasy football leagues are “legit” while others are not. The NFL argues that this information belongs to the NFL alone and that using the data without permission is a violation of the organization’s IP rights.

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Court: Congress can’t put public domain back into copyright

6 04 2009

In 1994, Congress jammed a batch of foreign books and movies back into the copyright closet. They had previously fallen into the public domain for a variety of technical reasons (the author hadn’t renewed the rights with the US Copyright Office, the authors of older works hadn’t included a copyright notice, etc.) and companies and individuals had already started reusing the newly public works. Did Congress have the right to put a stop to this activity by shoving the works back into copyright? On Friday, a federal court said no.

“Traditional contours of copyright”

1994’s Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) brought US intellectual property law in line with that of other countries. Section 514 of URAA better aligned US copyright law with the international Berne Convention, one of the earliest international intellectual property treaties. Though Berne had first been signed back in 1886, the US hadn’t joined up until a century later, in 1988.

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