Happy Public Domain Day

Midnight at the end of December 31 marked the passing of countless works into public domain. Copyright laws vary by country around the world. Most countries observe passage into public domain at death of the creator plus fifty years. In other words, the works of authors and artists who died in or before 1957 are now in the public domain. Some of the artists in this category include

  • Miguel Covarrubias
  • Diego Rivera
  • Constantin Brancusi
  • Gabriela Mistral
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Alfred Döblin
  • Malcolm Lowry

So as long as you distribute only in life+50 countries you are free to publish these works as you wish.

Another group of countries — about half as many, including much of Europe — observe the life + 70 years definition of public domain. A few of the creators who died in 1937 are

  • George Gershwin
  • Jean de Brunhoff (“Babar”)
  • Amelia Earhart (probably)
  • J.M. Barrie
  • Horacio Quiroga
  • Edith Wharton

Thanks to the power of Disney, however, in the U.S. works published after 1923 will most likely be bound by copyright virtually forever (via the “Steamboat Willie Rule”), until our legislators develop spines. (When will that happen?)

I wish someone would ask a question about intellectual property rights in one of the presidential “debates,” instead of rehashing the same tired seven or eight issues.


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  1. It’s a difficult subject to discuss as so many big corporations are determined to copyright everything in the name of profit while the technology makes it more and more difficult for them to do just that. This blog dedicates itself to issues of plagiarism and copyright and, if I read it correctly, takes the strict party line. But corporations like Sony and Disney are expanding the definition of copy right into more and more ridiculous extremes. I read a quote lately from a Sony lawyer that claimed that if you copied music that you had bought onto your mP3 player, you were violating copyright. It’s all about money and power, isn’t it?


  2. and more comment: this page has a lot of links to various discussions regarding copyright:


  3. Sorry for spaming your blog but the whole issue of copy right is fascinating and plays right into the issues that Naomi Kelin raises in her latest book on disaster capitalism. Here’s another great link :


  4. Thanks for the links, Nancy. As an example of “big corporations determined to copyright everything,” I was amazed that Google claimed copyright on its scans of public domain books in Google Book Search. (More on Google tomorrow, then back to the independent publishing thread next week.)

  5. Too bad there isn’t more discussion on this. I suppose that most (?) are not aware of how big corporations have expanded the definition of copyright in their search for ever expanding profit. Another excellent web page here: