Supreme Court - Public Domain Works can be Re-CopyrightedThe Supreme Court has ruled that it can recopyright works if they are still copyrighted in another country. I’m conflicted on this one: on the one hand, I’m enraged about extending copyrights, which originally lasted only for few years but now last over 100.
On the other hand, it is meant to bring copyrights into synchronicity with the rest of the world, which is an admirable goal.
Copyrighting is a complex subject which I won’t pretend to be an expert on, so bear with me as I try and explain it. In the United States, we have a fixed-length copyright, around 110 years for new work and less for older works, which is why pretty much everything from before 1923 is out of copyright.
Some other countries, on the other hand, hold copyright periods to be the author’s life plus 50-70 years, except for Spain which holds it to be plus 80. This means that the copyright might expire in the United States before it goes elsewhere. This disparity has created some tension before, so the Supreme Court has decided that older, contested works can be brought back into copyright.
Which would be bad if it was the first time this has happened, but it’s not. I believe that some of the copyright extensions acts over the years did retroactively bring some works back into copyright, so this decision doesn’t set dangerous precedent.
This does, of course, force some people into bad positions. Metropolis, an early classic science fiction film, will be taken out of the public domain. That means anything that has ever used a clip of it is now in violation, and educators cannot air it wouthout first getting permission and obtaining a legal copy. Orchestras will no longer be able to play Stravinsky music without first buying a copy of it, and any copies of the work not licensed by the owning body are now illegal.
As I said, this makes me conflicted.