Sunday, January 1, 2023

It's Public Domain Day

So, today I found out there are people who celebrate 'Public Domain Day' -- the day each year upon which literary, musical, and cinematic works slip into the Public Domain. For a quick summary of the issues involved, see The Guardian's article in today's issue:

For a detailed look, here's a site devoted to the issue (Center for the Study of the Public Domain) which has much more information:

This is of importance to Tolkien studies because even in his lifetime Tolkien's work was famously caught up in the distinctions in copyright law between the UK and the US. There are several good articles describing the difficulties during Tolkien's lifetime and subsequent years, which eventually ended with a ruling that LotR was indeed firmly in copyright, but I'm not aware of any piece which sums up the current status of JRRT's works in relation to the Sonny Bono Law as currently emended. 

Such a piece wd at a minimum have to take into account the interrelation between date of publication, the date of author's death, plus the posthumous protection extending to another 75 years (later expanded to 95 years).  Thus setting aside complications THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (originally published 1954) plus the ninety-five year extension wd stay under copyright until 2049, or another twenty-seven years. There are Tolkien scholars working in the field right now who shd live to see that.

Of course I'm sure there are plenty of additional factors that cd affect its status one way or another. And the law can change --indeed, the law and interpretation of the law has changed several times and cd change again. We'll see.

--John R.

--current reading: TERRY PRATCHETT: A LIFE IN FOOTNOTES (2022)

--other new arrival: Don King's biography of Warnie Lewis (December 2022)


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