Mudcat Café message #2461497 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #115100   Message #2461497
Posted By: Joe Offer
09-Oct-08 - 06:22 PM
Thread Name: How to check out a copyright
Subject: How to check out a copyright
Well, Riginslinger, I agree that there are some good reasons for extending a copyright. If I were Irving Berlin (1888-1989), I'd have a lot of very old, still marketable songs to my name. Under the previous 75-year rule, I would no longer have rights to many of the songs I wrote in my twenties, and I wouldn't be able to sell a coproration the rights to the songs I wrote in my thirties because there would be only ten years left before the songs went into the public domain. And I might want to leave my heirs the rights to the songs I wrote in my forties, but they wouldn't be worth much by the time I finally died.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 changed the expiration to 70 years after the author's death, with a different timetable for certain circumstances. That means that the works of Irving Berlin will come into public domain in 2059. Since Ira Gershwin died 17 August 1983, the works of George and Ira will be public in 2053. Cole Porter died in 1964, so his works go public in 2034, and I might even live to see that day.

But what about all the wonderful, unknown songs written by Joe Pumpernickel in the 1950's? They were never a commercial success and they aren't worth anything nowadays. They're treasured by a very small group of Pumpernickel fans who would love to post the songs on their website, but the songs are still protected by copyright - and nobody wants to publish them for money because too few people would be willing to pay for them. So, the wonderful songs of Joe Pumpernickel are lost because nobody can afford to publish them, and free publication is prohibited because the law protects all songs in order to preserve the commercial value of the works of Berlin and Gershwin and Porter.

Seems to me, there ought to be a provision for releasing unmarketable songs earlier. If I read the guidelines right, copyright renewal is automatic - why not require some action to renew a copyright, so that only the marketable works get extended protection? The way things are now, huge numbers of works are lost to protect the few that have real commercial value.

For more information, check guides at and the U.S. Copyright Office.
There's an excellent guide to copyright and fair use at (of all places) Dallas Theological Seminary.
Also look at Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States at Cornell University.

I'm moving this thread to the music section, because it certainly pertains to music.