Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2019 Issue

After a 20 Year Wait, Books Are Again Entering the Public Domain

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Co-conspirators Mickey and Sonny.

The year 1923 may not have been the greatest one in literary history, but it brought the first published work by one of the century's most notable writers, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was only 24 years old when he published Three Stories and Ten Poems. The print run was around 300 copies. His later works would require more.

 

In the southern continent of America, another great twentieth century writer published his first work, Fervor de Buenos Aires. It, too, was published in 300 copies. Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges may well be South America's greatest writer of the century.

 

Kahlil Gibran was an unknown in 1923 when he published The Prophet, a bestseller to this day. Robert Frost was already established, though not yet the icon he would become, when he published New Hampshire. It included Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Winston Churchill was an established politician and writer, though his true greatness was yet to be realized in 1923 when he published The World Crisis. F. Scott Fitzgerald was between This Side of Paradise and his greatest novel, The Great Gatsby, in 1923 when he published the short story The Vegetable, which was made into a play. It flopped. Zelda wrote that many in the audience were bored or offended, some walking out. Scott became depressed and drank, the play serving as yet another excuse for him to drink.

 

As recently as December, if you had quoted extensively from these books, or anything else first published in America in 1923, you could have been sued for copyright infringement. Now, you may quote at will. You can even publish your own edition and not have to worry whether any of these long deceased authors, their heirs, or those who bought the rights to their works, will sue you. They can't. They are now in the public domain. The copyrights have expired. After a hiatus of 20 years, old books are once again making their way into the public domain. On January 1, 2019, books published in 1923 became public property. On January 1, 2020, the same will be true of books first published in 1924, and so on.

 

The previous year, 1922, had seen some major works first published, including James Joyce's Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. They slipped into the public domain in 1997. Then, for 20 years, time stood still. Nothing became public again until January 1 last. What happened? You can place the blame for the long wait on Sonny Bono and Mickey Mouse.

 

In his post-Cher days, Sonny Bono became a congressman from California. He represented a district with show business celebrities, which Mickey Mouse certainly is. It's a bit unfair to malign Mickey. It was his corporate master, the Disney Company, that was much responsible for the long delay. In the 1990s, Disney recognized that Mickey, who first appeared in the cartoon Steamboat Willy in 1928, was approaching the public domain. They pushed for a delay, and with Sonny's help, they convinced Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. It increased the term of copyrights from 75 to 95 years. That is why for the past 20 years, no copyrighted works have made their way into the public domain. Now the annual release of copyrights has finally started again, and each year, we can expect a new crop of works to pass into the public domain. At least we can expect that unless Disney and Mickey step in before 2023 and convince Congress to extend copyright protection again.

 

This annual process will continue until the last copyright granted prior to 1978 expires. That will be on January 1, 2073. For books published after 1977, a different rule applies. For those books, the copyright does not expire until the end of the author's lifetime plus 70 years. Under this rule, the length of copyrights becomes variable, books written earlier in life having longer copyright periods than those published later in life. Hemingway's Three Stories would have been protected until 2032 under this rule, 109 years, but his later works also would have had their protections expire in 2032. On the other hand, Gibran's Prophet would have lost its protection in 2002. He died three decades before Hemingway. As for Mickey Mouse, his copyright would have lasted until 2037. Technically, Mickey never died, but Walt Disney did, in 1966.

 

So how long before the copyright expires on Sonny's I Got You Babe, released in 1965? Sonny Bono died in 1998. January 1, 2069? Trick question. I Got You Babe was a duet with his then wife, Cher. The copyright expiration for a work by multiple artists is the date of death of the last survivor plus 70 years. Cher is still very much alive, and hopefully will be for a long time to come. This question is unanswerable at present.


Posted On: 2019-02-01 08:53
User Name: PeterReynolds

This article isn't very clear. You have to read several paragraphs into the text before it starts to become apparent that the author is talking about the very unusual copyright law of the United States of America. In the EU, the death+70 rule has already been in in effect for 25 years or so, and almost every country in the world apart from USA already has a death+50 or death+70 rule in place, now, not in 2073. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries'_copyright_lengths


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Faulkner, William. <i>The Sound and the Fury.</i> New York: Jonathan Cape, [1929]. First edition in dust jacket. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Trautz-Bauzonnet bindery. Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Thompson, Kay. <i>Eloise at Christmastime.</i> New York: Random House, [1958]. First edition. In custom binding by Asprey. $800 to $1,200
    <center><b>Bonhams<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>New York | June 11, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 11:</b> Taylor, Deems. <i>Walt Disney’s Fantasia.</i> New York: 1940. In custom binding by Asprey. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Shakespeare’s Sonnets, In Two Parts,</i> limited Saint Dunstan edition, Oxford University Press, 1901. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. $18,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b><br>Ian Fleming, <i>The Man with the Golden Gun,</i> first edition, first state with the dust jacket, London, 1965. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>The Voyage Out,</i> first American edition of the author’s first book, in rare dust jacket, NY, 1920. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gabriel García Márquez, <i>Cien años de soledad,</i> Buenos Aires, 1967. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Mary Mapes Dodge, <i>Along the Way,</i> first edition, author’s copy, annotated in her hand, NY, 1879. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> <i>The Dial: A Monthly Magazine for Literature, Philosophy and Religion,</i> first edition, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s copy, Cincinnati, 1860. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Gaston Leroux, <i>The Phantom of the Opera,</i> first American edition, first printing, New York, 1911. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries May 14:</b> Walt Whitman, <i>Leaves of Grass,</i> signed, Camden, 1876. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> WRIGHT, Wilbur -- WRIGHT, Orville. Photograph signed. 128 x 177 mm, black and white. Taken for Collier's Weekly by James H. ("Jimmy") Hare. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> WRIGHT, Wilbur -- WRIGHT, Orville. Typed document signed, New York, NY, 18 November 1909. A founding document in the history of aviation: the certificate of incorporation for the Wright Company. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> LINCOLN, Mary Todd. Personal monogrammed handkerchief. Square linen handkerchief, silk border, "ML" monogram to one corner, 11 1/8 x 11 1/4 in. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> TRUMAN, Harry S. Broadside signed, as President, 8 May 1945. Truman's V-E Day proclamation. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> WASHINGTON, Martha Dandridge Custis, First Lady. Autograph free frank signed on integral cover sheet. One of four surviving free franks by Martha Washington. $30,000 to $40,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> DALI, Salvador, illustrator. -- DODGSON, Charles Lutwidge. <i>Alice in Wonderland.</i> New York: W.U.C.U.A. and Maecenas Press - Random House, 1969. Limited edition, signed by Dali. $3,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> CHURCHILL, Winston Spencer. <i>Lord Randolph Churchill.</i> London: Macmillan and Co., 1906. First edition, presentation copy to his valet, inscribed. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> DICKENS, Charles. <i>Great Expectations.</i> London: Chapman and Hall, 1861. First edition, 3 vols. Vol. I second issue, vol. II first issue, vol. III third issue. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> DODGSON, Charles Lutwidge ("Lewis Carroll"). <i>Sylvie and Bruno. -Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.</i> London: Macmillan, 1889, 1893. First editions, inscribed presentation copies. 2 works in 2 vols. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Leslie Hindman Auctioneers: Fine Books and Manuscripts. May 1, 2019</b>
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> KEULEN, Gerard van. <i>Nieuwe Wassende Graaden Paskaart Vertoonende alle de Bekende Zeekusten en…</i> [Amsterdam, ca 1720]. Important 18th century world map depicting California as an island. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> ALHAZEN [Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham]. <i>Opticae thesaurus.</i> Translated from Arabic into Latin. First edition of Alhazen’s classic work on optics and vision. $18,000 to $25,000
    <b>Leslie Hindman, May 1:</b> GALILEI, Galileo. <i>Systema cosmicum... in quo quatuor dialogis…</i> Translated from Italian by Matthias Bernegger. Strasbourg: D. Hauttius for the Elzevirs [at Leiden], 1635. First Latin edition. $6,000 to $8,000

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