In 1978, copyright law changed in the United States. Before then, a work could stay under copyright for 56 years after publication. But the new law extended that period to 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and 95 years after publication if the work was "made for hire" (usually, made by employee for an employer). Many people have bemoaned the 1978 law: critics say it's stifling, far too expansive, and a roadblock to everything from culture to scientific research.
Every year, advocates for shortening copyright terms consider what an alternate universe in which the 1978 law had not passed would look like. Here, for instance, is a list of books, movies, music and even scientific research that once would have entered the public domain this January, compiled by Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road (completed 1951, published 1957)
- Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
- Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
- A Farewell to Arms (Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones)
- Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley)
- 12 Angry Men (Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, and more)
- “Great Balls of Fire” (Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer)
- “West Side Story” (music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents)
- Picasso’s “Las Meninas”
- Dali’s “Celestial Ride”
- “Theory of Superconductivity” by John Bardeen, L.N. Cooper, and J.R. Schrieffer
- “Soviet and U.S. Professional and Technical Manpower”
- “Breeding Behavior of Cichlids”
Duke University explains what that while most of these works aren’t going to disappear—they are famous, after all—there are tons more that might:
Unlike the famous works highlighted here, the vast majority of works from 1957 do not retain commercial value, but they are presumably off limits to users who do not want to risk a copyright lawsuit. This means that no one is benefiting from continued copyright, while the works remain both commercially unavailable and culturally off limits.
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