Perpetual copyright ends, 1774

Tyler Cowen writes:

I am learning just how much early British copyright law kept the price of literature high, and kept books out of public hands.

The curious story of how perpetual copyright survived until 1774, 64 years after the Statute of Anne limited the duration of monopoly publishing rights to 14 years with one optional renewal is told in chapter 6, “Founders” of Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture. (Failing to obtain legislative copyright extension, publishers argued that common law copyright was perpetual, obviating the statute.)

Modern U.S. publishers, since at least 1976 succeeded politically where their English predecessors failed, obtaining effectively perpetual protection through legislation, obviating the U.S. constitution’s “limited time” clause (nevermind the redefinition of “science and useful arts“). Should publishers fail to obtain another extension by 2019, what alternative methods for controlling pre-1923 works will publishers pursue?

2 Responses

  1. […] If you were to die tomorrow your heirs would own exclusive rights to your creative works, possibly forever. If not immediately (likely), then sooner or later your heirs will be unreachable or disagree over the disposition of your copyrights, annihilating your creative legacy. For without permission, your works may not be legally displayed, performed, reproduced, distributed, translated, repurposed, or otherwise used (excepting narrow and increasingly constrained fair use). […]

  2. […] of commercial availability. That would make a gigantic improvement over the current effectively perpetual (50-70 years depending on jurisdiction, retroactively extended as necessary). Not as gigantic, but […]

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