"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
-- Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible (KJV)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Robert Frost's "Snowy Woods", Willa Cather's "Nebraska", "Mickey Mouse" and More: The Great Public Domain Surge in 2019 for Works Copyrighted in 1923: Law and Culture Frozen in Time

2019 will be a banner year for the release of works copyrighted in 1923, originally scheduled for release to public domain status in 1999, but protected as of 1998 for another 20 years by the passage of the ill-conceived Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended copyright protection for another 20 years in order to benefit the financial interests of greedy copyright holders.

The Act thus froze public access to works published in 1923, thus creating a 20-year generational shortchange, so Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive who states: "The 20th century is largely missing from the Internet."

Glenn Fleishman has the story at Smithsonian Magazine in For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter the Public Domain

One work that now finally passes into the public domain is Willa Cather's "Nebraska", published in 1923 in The Nation, where, as Fleishman writes,

"[Willa Cather] laments the cultural and economic homogenization in her beloved state" and sets the stage for the technological transformation of the U.S.A. in the 20th century."

Leila C. Nadir at Cather.UNL.edu in Time Out of Place: Modernity and the Rise of Environmentalism in Willa Cather's O Pioneers! writes in WILLA CATHER: BETWEEN MODERNIST STUDIES AND ECOCRITICISM that:

"Willa Cather was notoriously skeptical of how modernity was transforming American life in the early twentieth century. In her 1923 Nation essay, "Nebraska: The End of the First Cycle," she mourned the midwestern state she had moved to as a child, in 1883, at the age of nine. Nebraska's European settlers, immigrant cultures, and sod houses were being displaced by electricity, telephones, furnaces, tractors, cinema, and public education: "[T]he splendid story of the pioneers is finished," she wrote.

Fleishman of the Smithsonian explains how the disastrous lawmaking of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act happened:

"We can blame Mickey Mouse for the long wait. In 1998, Disney was one of the loudest in a choir of corporate voices advocating for longer copyright protections. At the time, all works published before January 1, 1978, were entitled to copyright protection for 75 years; all author’s works published on or after that date were under copyright for the lifetime of the creator, plus 50 years. Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse’s first appearance on screen, in 1928, was set to enter the public domain in 2004. At the urging of Disney and others, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, named for the late singer, songwriter and California representative, adding 20 years to the copyright term. Mickey would be protected until 2024—and no copyrighted work would enter the public domain again until 2019, creating a bizarre 20-year hiatus between the release of works from 1922 and those from 1923."

So, finally, after shoveling untold billions into the pockets of the greedy -- you ask how the middle class has been decimated of its assets in recent decades? -- untold thousands of works now are released by law into the public domain in 2019.  Fleishman of the Smithsonian quotes Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain that:

"The public domain has been frozen in time for 20 years, and we’re reaching the 20-year thaw.... The release is unprecedented, and its impact on culture and creativity could be huge. We have never seen such a mass entry into the public domain in the digital age. The last one—in 1998, when 1922 slipped its copyright bond—predated Google." [emphasis added by LawPundit]