Public Domain Day

Via Dorothea Salo and Peter Suber, John Mark Ockerbloom reminds me that New Year’s Day is also Public Domain Day — the day on which, each year, a new batch of works enters the public domain:

In countries that use the “life plus 50 years” minimum standard of the Berne Convention, works by authors who died in 1957 enter the public domain today. That includes writers, artists, and composers like Nikos Kazantzakis, Diego Rivera, Dorothy L. Sayers, Jean Sibelius, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
In countries that use the “life plus 70 years” term, works by authors who died in 1937 enter the public domain, including works by J. M. Barrie, Jean de Brunhoff, H. P. Lovecraft, Maurice Ravel, and Edith Wharton. […]
In countries like the US and Australia, which are under 20-year freezes of all or most of the public domain, it’s not quite as momentous a day. Here in the US, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we’re once again waking up to a public domain 1922, as we have since 1998. Our next mass expiration of copyrighted published material is scheduled for New Year’s Day 2019, 11 years from now. […]
Let’s not just ask what the public domain can do for us; let’s ask what we can do for the public domain. In particular, as of this year more than 14 years have passed since the Web started to explode into public consciousness, with NCSA’s release of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. Many of us older Net users started creating web sites that year. And 14 years was the original term of copyright specified in the UK’s Statute of Anne, and the US’s first copyright law (with an optional renewal term).
As an advocate of more reasonable copyright terms, like those envisioned by our country’s founders, I am therefore today dedicating the copyrights of all 1993 versions of my web sites into the public domain. These sites include The Online Books Page, which is still in operation, and Catholic Resources on the Net, which I stopped maintaining in 1999.

Many thanks to John Mark for the informative post, and also for his gift to the public domain. Like Dorothea, I have long since tried to make it clear that I consider my weblog to belong to the public domain. (Do read Dorothea’s explanation.) As you can see from comments on my entry, though, an informal statement is suboptimal because people still have questions, and are not confident simply taking whatever they want from the site (as I intend that they should be). It turns out that it’s not easy to put something into the public domain without waiting out the requisite copyright term — it means giving something away for free, and the law is leery of that. So you need meatspace signatures and whatnot, and the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication is not really much use, even within the USA. I’ve thought about ditching my homebrew dedication for a CC-BY license, but I don’t actually want to place that restriction on the use of anything I post here. Fortunately, CC is on the ball and will soon offer CCZero, which I hope will turn out to be an effective way to dedicate something to the public domain, formally and officially and in a widely recognized and accepted manner. Once I have an option that puts the weight of Creative Commons behind the dedication I want, I’ll switch to that. For now, just trust me — take whatever you want from this site (so long as I made it, of course) and do with it as you please. I’d love to hear back about anything you do with something you found here, but you’re under no obligation to inform me.

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