It's a good time to catch up on those classics you missed

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Creative people deserve to be rewarded for their talent and the hard work it takes to win an audience for their creations.

That’s the purpose of copyright law, and it serves society well — top authors, actors, directors and musicians are among the highest paid people around.

But the founding fathers got it right when, like patents, they set time limits on government protection of creative works in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution.

Congress does have the power to set those limits, however, which it did in response to heavy lobbying by The Walt Disney Co., which was about to lose copyright protection on early portrayals of a certain rodent.

Nicknamed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” (officially the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act) extended copyrights by 20 years. That finally expired, putting 1923 material into the public domain on Jan. 1.

As a result, many classic works by authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kahlil Gibran, PG Wodehouse, DH Lawrence, Edith Wharton and EE Cummings are now fair game.

Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is now copyright free, as are works by Agatha Christie and Virginia Woolf.

It’s not only books: copyright in the US is also expiring on a host of films, paintings and music.

Films like Charlie Chaplin’s “The Pilgrim,” Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” and “Safety Last!” which features Nebraska silent film star Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock, are now free to be viewed by film connoisseurs and adapted by modern video artists.

Websites like the Internet Archive, Google Books and the Gutenberg Project will have a wealth of new material for teachers, students, writers and artists to use, adapt and draw inspiration from without guilt or fear of violating a copyright.

Yes, copyright law is an appropriate way to protect, reward and encourage creative persons to do their best.

But after all these years, the recognition that free and wide distribution will bring to their works is the best tribute possible.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: