Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Notes on Copyright (3): Two loopholes

The main reason for another post in this series is to announce its termination. Since the last installment, I have found a new venue for my copyright articles, and for other planned poetry-related prose articles: a new wiki, Penny's Poetry Pages. While parts of the wiki are still under construction, we have put together an excellent series of articles on copyright law that you can read here. With that menu and banquet prepared,there is no reason to continue to dole out crumbs of information on the blog.

Nor did I ever want to get into the minutiae of countries' legislation; my best advice is to read the copyright laws of your own country. The rules I previously gave err deliberately on the side of caution. There are works on the blog that carry the "All rights reserved" warning, but which you may legally copy if you wish; if you wish, then I urge you to check the facts and law around the poem's copyright status where you live.

I will, though, conclude by pointing out two major loopholes, which drastically affect copyright status in the states whose acts contain them.

The first is called the "rule of the shorter term." This rule modifies the principle of national treatment, under which states give foreign authors the same protection in law as their own subjects. Basically the rule states that, if state A gives authors a shorter term of copyright protection than state B, state A's authors will enjoy only the same term, in state B, as that enjoyed in A.

For example, in the European Union, it is mandatory that all EU states protect copyright for the author's life plus 70 years. (That is why the United Kingdom extended its copyright in 1995.) At the same time, it is mandatory that all  EU states have a rule of the shorter term. That means that, because in Canada copyright protection runs for only an author's life plus 50 years, in the U.K. (and the rest of the EU) Canadian authors' works are copyrighted for only the author's life plus 50 years. Since all the Canadian works on   The Penny Blog  are in the public domain in Canada, they are all in the public domain in Europe.

The United States do not have a rule of the shorter term, alas. But they do have a significant loophole of their own, which I'll call here the "1922 rule."

In 1978 the U.S. extended copyright protection from 50 to 70 years' after an author's life, by establishing a 20-year "freeze"during which no copyrights would expire. However, the freeze was applied only to books published within the previous 75 years: from 1923 on. As for books published in 1922 or earlier, the 1998 act affirmed that all of them are in the public domain.

That makes a great deal of material available to otherwise excluded bloggers and others. For instance, Robert W. Service died in 1955, meaning that most of his books are copyrighted in the U.S. until 2025. However, the poetry of his that  The Penny Blog  has published -- from 1907's Songs of a Sourdough and 1916's Rhymes of a Red Cross Man - is all in the public domain in the U.S. thanks to the 1922 rule.

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