Disneys rights to young Mickey Mouse may be wrong – Los Angeles Times

Under thr 1909 copyright law, formalities (concerning notice and registration) were very important. I do not find it surprising then that the Disney’s may have messed up their copyright notice. The law then was that if there existed any ambiguity in the notice, then copyright was void. Of course, when a young law student working on an article asked Disnry about it, they threatened a slander of title suit if he made his thoughts public. Under the same difficulties in managing copyrights in the early days, I also firmly believe that other items generatin millions annually now, i.e. the Birthday Song, have expired copyrights. I am always available for anyone with unlimited funds who wants to take up this fight.

Ethically, a California slander of title action would not have been frivolous, and I have no doubt that they would bring such a suit, so the threat made by Disney General Counsel, now Los Angeles County judge, Louis Meisinger was not unethical. I do, however, find it unseemly – and just the sort of anecdote that makes the public hate lawyers. Threatening a law student with a lawsuit just for making a theory about a voided copyright public is an assault on decorum and propriety (and before dozens of people email me about the first amendment, please note that Disney is not a govt. actor).

Disneys rights to young Mickey Mouse may be wrong – Los Angeles Times

The notion that any Mickey Mouse might be free of copyright restrictions is about as welcome in the Magic Kingdom as a hag with a poisoned apple. Yet elsewhere, especially in academia, the idea has attracted surprising support.

“That Steamboat Willie is in the public domain is easy. Thats a foregone conclusion,” said copyright scholar Peter Jaszi of American Universitys Washington College of Law after studying the issue at The Times request.

The issue has been chewed over by law students as class projects and debated by professors. It produced one little-noticed law review article: a 23-page essay in a 2003 University of Virginia legal journal that argued “there are no grounds in copyright law for protecting” the Mickey of those early films.

UK rejects music copyright term extension

Last month the British government rejected extending copyright terms for sound recordings (currently 50 years).
Of course the music industry cried that the government did not support musicians and artists. But I’ll let that specious argument go for today. Even thought the government would have had get the European Commission to change the uniform copyright law, it was being heavily considered.

In the end, Prime Minister Gordon Brown determined that extending copyright terms “would not benefit the majority of performers and could lead to increased costs.” It is refreshing to see anyone in a government paying attention to carefully researched expert opinion, i.e. following the sound advice of the Gowers report, instead of rolling over for a bunch of aging celebs, i.e. Cliff Richard and Roger Daltrey, to mention but two.

Kahle v. Gonzales (formerly Kahle v. Ashcroft); Court of Appeals for 9th Cir. Affirms Lower Court Dismissal

Kahle v. Gonzales is an attempt to reverse the change of copyright protection in the United States from an opt-in system to an opt-out system brought by the Copyright Renewal Act (CRA) of 1992 and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). Plaintiffs, who were using works that had fallen into public domain, claimed the change triggered a First Amendment free speech claim, and that the extended terms violates the Copyright Clause’s “limited times” provision. This case is couched as an attempt to free orphan works, but more likely, the court pointed out, was an “attempt to tangentially relitigate [Eldred v. Ashcroft].” (the court may have thought from the beginning that this was just Prof. Lessig trying to re-try Elred. While I respect the work that the EFF is trying to do, I wish that they would stop helping. They keep losing cases that they should have won by making outragous arguments, and in the process, set precedent after negative precedent.)

On the first amendment claim, the court said that traditional safeguards on free speech, such as such as fair use and the idea/expression dichotomy, were still intact and protected the public’s free speech interests, and first amendment scrutiny was not triggered.

On the limited times claim, the court said that the Supreme Court weighed in on this a few years ago in Eldred v. Ashcroft, and clearly said that the extended terms and change in renewal requirements was not violative of the “limited times” requirement of the Copyright Clause.

The original suit had four claims, and, as the one regarding the Berne Convention Implementation Act (BCIA) is not mentioned, I assume it was not appealed.

Bravo Ninth Circuit. The main issue here was the fact that Prelinger Associates, Inc. (as well as projects like the “Million Book Project” by The Internet Archive, Carnegie Mellon University, and the National Science Foundation, and “Google Books”) sought to digitize old books and felt that cutting off the stream of material entering the public domain that they had been waiting on was wrong. All such projects would like a free pass to violate the copyrights of others because for “orphan works,” because they feel it is just too hard to track down the rightsholder and get permission. For an unlabelled black and white photograph, I understand the frustration (not the right to trample the rights of others, only the frustration)–but for books that contained all the relevant information in the front cover to begin with, Come on.

My law review article on orphan works, as well as my solution to the entire problem, is being submitted to various journals at the moment. I will point you too it as soon as it goes to print. All of the book scanning projects say the books that they are collecting are commercially unsuccessful, and thus are not available at bookstores. However, they all ignore how the marketplace might solve this dilema on its own, in light of the long-tail effect. Just like music back catalogs that are making a comeback, combine the possible aggregate revenue and print on demand technology, and these books could actually be commercially viable. Actually, there is an argument to be made that an entire collection of books would only have to recoup the cost of storage media (harddrives) to become viable, and that individual books would not have to be viable themselves. Cheap storage + Amazon.com + Print on Demand + Long Tail = A very profitable business.

In its entirety, the Kahle v. Gonzales (has also been cited as Prelinger Associates, Inc. v. Gonzales) decision follows:

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When Does a Work Pass Into the Public Domain?

Definition:  A public domain work is a creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by everyone.  The reasons that the work is not protected include: (1) the term of copyright for the work has expired; (2) the author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to perfect the copyright or (3) the work is a work of the U.S. Government.

Created 1-1-1978 or after When work is fixed in tangible medium of expression Life + 70 years1 (or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation2
Published before 1923 In public domain  None
Published from 1923 – 1963 When published with notice3 28 years + could be renewed for 47 years, now extended by 20 years for a total renewal of 67 years. If not so renewed, now in public domain
Published from 1964 – 1977 When published with notice 28 years for first term; now automatic extension of 67 years for second term
Created before 1-1-1978 but not published 1-1-1978, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or 12-31-2002, whichever is greater
Created before 1-1-1978 but published between then and 12-31-2002 1-1-1978, the effective date of the 1976 Act which eliminated common law copyright Life + 70 years or 12-31-2047 whichever is greater

1  Term of joint works is measured by life of the longest-lived author.

2  Works for hire, anonymous and pseudonymous works also have this term.  17 U.S.C. § 302(c).

3  Under the 1909 Act, works published without notice went into the public domain upon publication. Works published without notice between 1-1-1978 and 3-1-1989, effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act, retained copyright only if, e.g., registration was made within five years. 17 U.S.C. § 405 (Notes courtesy of Professor Tom Field, Franklin Pierce Law Center and Lolly Gasaway).

Chart reprinted with permission. For original and updates see http://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm.

Public Domain – Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche

As an example of how the public domain enhances public culture and discourse, I thought I would venture forth and see what was available. I chose Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche because it is the drop off point for a large part of modern thought and was first published in 1886. It turns out you can:

Have it delivered daily to your email as a serial via Daily Lit

Download the audiobook version in MP3 format via LibriVox

Download etext version via Project Gutenberg

Download PDF at PlanetPDF

You can find the complete text in a few other places, but not as much as you would imagine. I did, however, manage to find 3 different english translations in the public domain allowing me to see the different way the translators view key concepts.

Download From Google Books

Google announced last week that it would make public domain books download-able in PDF format. While a legitimate use of the technology and the scanning of a number of libraries around the world, in the future a book will be available for download the day it goes out of copyright. While this might not seem like a big deal, as a book dealer what are the chances that I will order 10 copies of Lady Windimere’s Fan 18 months out of the expiration date, knowing that I will be sitting on them when the copyright expires. This may seem like a little issue, but does expand into the value equation of the long tail, works in a long series, and derivatives. Today though, I give you a link to download The Tragedy of Hamlet by William Shakespeare, which every child in the world should read once.


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