Read - And Go In Peace
"Here are free, accessible books. Read them and go in peace."
That's what you see when you hit Eric Eldred's site, dedicated to the Public Domain.
But, following the US Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Sonny Bono Act
(1998 Copyright Term Extension Act) in Eldred v. Ashcroft, 01-618, anyone
hoping to publish old books online and use cartoons and other public domain
works without having to fork out high royalties is going to be out of luck.
"With this ruling, copyrights are now protected for up to a century," said
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President and CEO Gary Shapiro. "The
Constitutional mandate that copyright terms be restricted to 'limited terms'
becomes almost meaningless as Congress yielded to Hollywood's extension
"Certainly, creative work must be encouraged and original ideas protected.
But this idea must be balanced with the need - and right - to promote broad
public access to copyrighted works and to allow for technological
"It is simply unfair that companies who made their fortune taking works in
the public domain and reformatting them for new technology are now
preventing others from following the same business model. Congress took from
the public and gave to Disney. And while most Justices recognized this was
horrible public policy they also chose to find it Constitutional."
Bono extends copyrights to the "life of the author plus 70 years" while
corporately-owned works are protected for 95 years.
"A contrary ruling would have cost entertainment giants like The Walt Disney
Co. and AOL Time Warner Inc. hundreds of millions of dollars," says a
January 15 Associated Press report. "AOL Time Warner had said that would
threaten copyrights for such movies as 'Casablanca,' 'The Wizard of Oz' and
"Gone With the Wind'."
The Bono Act supports long copyright extensions and Eric Eldred was the lead
plaintiff in a bid to have it declared unconstitutional, challenging it on
the grounds that it unfairly limits what he can make available on his public
As Eric says here:
"Over the past forty years, Congress has extended the term of existing
copyrights 11 times, thereby stopping the flow of creative material into the
public domain. The biggest supporters of these laws are individuals and
corporations with extremely valuable copyrights that are about to expire
(for example, Mickey Mouse). The biggest effect of these laws is to make
unavailable an extraordinary range of creative material for next
"Just as Walt Disney used the works of the Brothers Grimm to produce some of
the best of the Disney stories, so too should the next Walt Disney be able
to build upon the stories told by Disney.
"But more important than the few valuable copyrights that these extensions
protect, this case is about freeing the vast majority of creative work still
under copyright that no one seeks to protect -- indeed, work which the
current copyright owner doesn't even know he or she owns.
"Many films from the 1920s and 1930s are decaying in vaults because current
copyright holders cannot be identified. Many books and songs published in
the early part of the century are unavailable because the cost of finding
the copyright owner is just too high. Congress sacrificed all these works,
just to protect a few valuable copyrights. But as the Supreme Court has
said, 'you can't burn the house to roast the pig' - not even to save The
Eldred started his Web site in 1995 when his daughters were reading
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter in school, says the AP story,
adding, "He decided to post the book on the Internet with hyperlinks to
allow visitors to learn the definitions of unfamiliar words as they read."
Check out Donna Wentworth's COPYFIGHT: The politics of IP for some fascinating
Related News from Mi2N:
» Supreme Court Upholds Copyright Term Extension