They are reading a book – The Ukiah Daily Journal
In 1909, Congress passed copyright law that would govern literary works for most of the twentieth century – books, short stories, works of art, musical compositions – and a new medium, films. (but these probably didn’t have much of a future). Under the Copyright Act of 1909, a copyright was valid for 28 years and could be renewed once, for a total of 56 years.
It’s unclear why Congress chose those two numbers (why not 25 years? Or 30?), Or why a copyright owner was limited to one renewal. One thing that is clear, however, is why copyright expires: because it says so in the US Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 provides that Congress is empowered to “promote the progress of. . . useful arts, securing for durations limited to authors. . . the exclusive right to them. . . written. . . . “
What is a “time limit”, therefore, is usually a decision of Congress. And whether that created a sufficiently “limited” time frame for that, it is ultimately a question for the Supreme Court.
This became a problem in the early 2000s, as Congress twice dramatically extended copyright. In 1976, she rewrote the law on copyright to provide that from 1978, copyright would be good for the life of the “author” (writer or short story writer, painter of a painting, composer of a musical work, etc.). the copyrights obtained by a company, like a movie studio (hmmm … maybe these films had a future), they lasted for 75 years. Existing copyrights that had not expired before 1978 benefited from the new law.
Then, in 1998, Congress extended existing copyrights for an additional 20 years, while extending future copyrights to the life of the author plus 70 years, and corporate copyrights to 95. years. Although Congressman Sonny Bono, himself a songwriter, pushed for the extension (and in whose honor the Copyright Term Extension Act was named by his fellow Congressmen after his death in a skiing accident ), the main advocate for this change was the Walt Disney Company. . By 1998, many of Disney’s oldest copyrights were about to expire, most notably Mickey Mouse himself, created in 1928. By 2003, Mickey would have become public property for anyone who wanted to sell designs, posters or even watches.
The 1998 expansion kept Mickey safe in Disney’s three-fingered hands until 2023. It also led to litigation in the United States Supreme Court in 2003, pitting supporters of the spread of ideas. to the giants of the entertainment industry. But the Supreme Court ruled that even 95 years was still a “time limit” under the Constitution.
So far, Congress has yet to extend copyrights, and once the 20-year extension began to expire after 2018, works created 95 years earlier began to expire again. And that led to the folks on National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” podcast, which deals with economics, money, and finance, to create an unusual episode last January.
As of January 1, 2021, all copyrights created in 1925 have expired. The folks at “Planet Money” explained the above story and noted that one of the copyrights that expired in 2021 was that of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
As the folks at “Planet Money” also noted, because “The Great Gatsby” is now in the public domain, that means anyone who wants to print copies of the novel and sell them, or make a new film version of it, or cite long passages from the novel in another work, may do so without paying anything to Fitzgerald’s heirs or publisher.
And to illustrate this, for the Jan. 15, 2021 installment of “Planet Money,” its staff read the entire novel – every word – like this week’s episode. “Gatsby” had nine chapters, so a different member of staff took turns reading each chapter. The typically 20-30 minute podcast lasted almost four and a half hours that week.
“Gatsby” was one of the most famous novels of the 1920s – still had to be read in many high school and college literature classes. It’s a memorable portrayal of the jazz era, the empty lives of the idle rich, and Gatsby’s unsuccessful quest for his lost love, Daisy Buchanan. And if you’ve ever wanted to hear what amounts to an audiobook version of the story read by nine different narrators, all you need to do is download the January 15, 2021 episode of “Planet Money.”
And so we advanced, boats against the tide, ceaselessly pushed back into the past.
Frank Zotter, Jr. is an attorney for Ukiah.