Great Gatsby, Copyright, and the Public Domain

f_scott_fitzgerald_in_carIs the Great Gatsby in the public domain? The book was written in 1925 and Fitzgerald passed away in 1940. Copyright generally expires 70 years after the author’s death, so you could be forgiven for thinking the answer is “yes.”

If you live in Australia, Canada, or another jurisdiction outside the US, you can already get the book through sites like Project Gutenberg Australia. US residents should not click that link–had SOPA been passed, this site could have been censored for even providing the link. In these United States, however, Gatsby is still not in the public domain.

Here’s Duke’s Kevin Smith (who we’ve talked to before) on the convoluted reasoning behind this:

Let’s look for a minute at F. Scott.  Because he died in December of 1940, his unpublished works do enter the public domain in the United States as of 1/1/11.  His published works, however, are another story.  If a Fitzgerald work was published between 1920 and 1922, as This Side of Paradise was, for example, it is in the public domain.  But any works published in 1923 0r later, such as The Great Gatsby, are still protected.  After 1922 (and prior to 1963), a work that was published with copyright notice  and the copyright in which was renewed is given a term of 95 years from publication (the initial 28 year term plus a renewal term, after the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, of 67 years).  Thus published works from this time period are protected until at least 2019; — 1923 plus 95 years equals 2018, so works published that year will rise into the public domain on 1/1/2019.  The author’s date of death does not make any difference for these works.

This distinction seems designed to confuse librarians and other users of works.  An archive of Fitzgerald manuscripts, for example, could digitize and make available those items that were never published, or that were published earlier in F. Scott’s career (like Tales of the Jazz Age).  But a manuscript of Gatsby or Tender is the Night is still subject to protection.

The EFF had a nice explainer on this topic recently as well. Copyright restrictions aren’t just tougher in the US, they’re also subject to the whims of Congress. Congressional action can remove books from the public domain even after they’re put there by law, thanks to this Supreme Court decision.

How does this regulation affect the availability of books? Rebecca Rosen of The Atlantic called it the “missing 20th century” based on Paul Heald’s study, “Do Bad Things Happen When Works Fall Into the Public Domain?” Here’s a chart of books available from Amazon by decade of publication:

Amazon pub domain-thumb-615x368-83391

Continuing to extend copyright protection every time Mickey Mouse gets close to being put in the public domain helps Disney, but it does not help the spread of knowledge. Don’t get me started on Hollywood, though–I’m off to see the movie.

Defeating ACTA

Source: geekosystem

From Wired:

ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, is an international treaty that was negotiated in secret over the span of four years. While the provisions are currently public, their genesis was hidden from democratic scrutiny, and most nations signed on to ACTA without any chance for their citizenry to review or comment on the process. Beyond its undemocratic origins, it’s often unclear how ACTA’s requirements would be implemented, or could be implemented without creating a technical architecture online that restricts speech. For instance, ACTA’s harsh DMCA-like provisions against anti-circumvention could effectively render some free software, which by its nature can’t support DRM, illegal in the Western world.

Many in Europe, and especially the former Soviet-controlled countries like Poland, are sensitive to anything that smacks of censorship. Activists in places like Poland and Germany saw the specter of authoritarian control in both the secretive imposition of ACTA and in the possible consequences of its technical provisions. The American architects of ACTA, not having had the recent experience of oppression, seem to have often been tone-deaf to the European fears.

I am currently reading Mark Helprin’s Digital Barbarism for a counterpoint to my views on intellectual property in the age of the internet. Expect a full-length post when I’m done.

Why I Blacked Out

The Internet, as of this writing, is an anarchic system. While there are certain regulations and norms that govern behavior, they are not strong. There is no individual or subset of individual users/developers who can claim legitimate authority to coerce others over the Internet. For now, it remains free.

instagram: @brainpicker

The Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261, and its Senate counterpart, S. 968) represents a threat to that freedom. If this legislation were to pass into law, it would be widely regarded as legitimate not because of any inherent rightness, but because of the power of the body that enforces it. The authors of this bill likely do not realize that it will fail in its stated goal–to prevent copyright-infringing downloads–while at the same time perpetuating the falsehood that there is an exclusive property right to truth.

Law certainly has a legitimate role to play in society: to clarify expectations. But our societal expectations regarding intellectual property have already been stated in existing copyright law–which SOPA will not strengthen or improve in any way. In fact, the harm of expansive, one-size-fits-all copyright is already evident from the fact that many works whose authors have long since passed away are still not part of the public domain in the US. The Internet evolves extremely quickly, while legislation tends to come about in punctuated ways. Once SOPA or a similar law is on the books, it will be tremendously difficult to modify in light of changing circumstances.

Web developers, writers, and everyone else who blacked out their pages this week to demonstrate opposition to SOPA proved at least one thing: the Internet community is capable of overcoming collective action problems. If SOPA is stopped, there will not be any one single person or group to thank. It will be because all of us banded together to show that freedom still exists. For now.

Update on SOPA

This post is a follow-up on an earlier one, which can be found here.

Yesterday, Go Daddy, the world’s largest registrar of internet domain names, released a statement in support of a revised version of SOPA. I immediately started seeing tweets of bloggers and entrepreneurs looking to move away from Go Daddy. This follows  at least a week of other major websites showing their opposition to SOPA. 

An informal poll initiated yesterday asked, “Did you transfer your domains from GoDaddy today?” Although this poll fares very poorly by the standards of public opinion research, the results are somewhat interesting. As of noon CST today, the poll had 951 respondents. 39% of respondents said “yes,” and another 48% responded “not yet, but will transfer soon.” Only 13% of those who took the poll–who were presumably aware of “recent Go Daddy and SOPA news”–indicated no plans to transfer away from Go Daddy.

It will be interesting to see whether people actually march with their (virtual) feet and (real) dollars in support of this policy position.

Further reading: 

Dear Internet: It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How Congress Works

Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK to Not Know How the Internet Works (original page appears to be down, maybe because of high traffic; see quotes here and here)

Dead Congress: It’s Not OK Not to Know How Search Engines Work Either

Oh, and in case you want to express your opinion to your congressman on this issue, I hear that they still accept telegrams.

Update to the update: (1:34pm CST)

Go Daddy no longer supports SOPA.

Go Daddy will support it when and if the Internet community supports it…. In an effort to eliminate any confusion about its reversal on SOPA though, Jones has removed blog postings that had outlined areas of the bill Go Daddy did support.

Way to go, Internet. (via @newsyc20)