Happy Public Domain Day

January 1, 2014

In this First Day of the Year, we celebrate:

Public Domain Day

Copyright is a time-limited, Government-awarded monopoly, given to individuals as an incentive for the creation of works of art, and their eventual dedication to the Public Domain.

In the US, this Monopoly award lasts for the Lifetime of the creator plus 70 Years. Back in the 1700’s, It used to be only 14 years total. It was a time when the British Parliament was acutely aware of the damage that Monopolies do the the Economy.

Since the Statue of Anne, in 1710, it was clarified that at the expiration of the Copyright Monopoly, the works that were constrained by the Monopoly, were to be returned to the Public Domain, where permissions are no longer needed for the distribution, replication and modification of those Works of Art. In this way, the next generation of creators can draw again from the Public Domain, as their cultural commons, to build yet again new cultural artifacts, instead of letting the youngest creative minds of our time to be lost.

Copyright duration was extended most recently in the US in 1976, with the Sony Bono Copyright Extension Act. This bill is also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, since it was driven by lobbying to prevent the return of the Mickey Mouse character to the Public Domain, something that should have happened in 2003.

Copyright Duration and the Mickey Mouse Curve


(Image courtesy of Techdirt)

By changing Copyright Laws for the entire country, a specific corporation was able to extend the Monopoly for one of its expiring characters. Ironically, this is one character that was built in the movie Steam Boat Willy, as a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928).


The Center for the Study of the Public Domain, at Duke University, recounts today, a collection of Works of Art whose Monopolies should have expired, and that should have entered the Public Domain today, if the copyright duration would not have been extended in 1976:


 For example:


Due to the Copyright Extension Act of 1976, these books (and thousands of others) will now still be under Monopoly restrictions until the year 2034.

In the meantime, as a reaction against these antiquated economic models, the Information Age has opened other venues for making possible to create, disseminate and share cultural works:

The Creative Commons Permissive Licenses. 

Celebrate the Cultural Heritage from which the Culture of Tomorrow can be created:


Happy Public Domain Day !


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