Bookish Topic Tuesday – Copyright

Bookish Topic Tuesday


Copyright of books is a really big bookish topic! And it is probably too complex for one post, even a whole number of posts. It’s different in every country around the world, so that makes it even harder to understand! You’d probably need a comprehensive law degree and speciality in Copyright Law to understand the exact nature of copyright, and what is and what isn’t ‘fair use’, and I think right now, that’s a very important question that needs to be clearly defined. And what about International Copyright, how does the presence of country borders impact on copyright law? Can I post Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice on this blog, and if it were still under copyright (somewhere, but I don’t believe it is) in a different country, would they be breaking the law, or would I for having it. And does it matter that I’m in Australia, where it is in the public domain, or is more about where the site is hosted, which is presumably America where WordPress is located? Who knows. But here are some things I do know…

In Australia and the UK, literary works are copyrighted for the life of the creator plus an additional 70 years. In Australia if the creator died before 1955, or if the work was published before 1955 (if it was under a pseudonym) then copyright has expired. If the work wasn’t published in their life time, then it is 70 years from the publication.

In the USA it is the same length now, the life of creator + 70 years, but only for works published on or after January 1st 1978, for works published before then, it’s more complicated, as they could be renewed. But it seems that if it was published between 1964-1977 then it was copyrighted for 95 years from first publication, and before 1964, the copyright lasted 28 years unless it was renewed. But anything prior to 1923 has expired. If the work was anonymous or under a pseudonym, then the copyright is for 95 years after first publication, or 120 years after creation, which ever is first.

For Canada, it’s the life of the creator plus 50 years, and for anonymous or pseunonymous works, it is 50 years from publication or 75 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

The longest copyright in the world is in Mexico, where anything published after 2003, the copyright lasts the life of the creator plus 100 years!

Once copyright has expired, the work goes into the public domain, which means it’s free for anyone to do whatever they like with it. If I want to post it on this blog in full, I can. If I want to post it here, and swap around the names, and claim it as my own, then technically I probably can, because there is no copyright on it, but, I don’t think people would be fooled for very long.

As for Fair Use, this is a tricky place to tread. It is really difficult to know what is and what isn’t Fair Use. Is someone on Youtube playing a video game, and showing everyone their footage fair use? Is someone on Youtube watching a TV show, without showing the screen, but with audio under fair use? Is using a book cover on this blog fair use? Are my posts on books fair use? It’s tough to know! In America there are four key factors on which fair use is considered:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

But it also depends on what you are doing with the work. Is it for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research”, then fair use can apply. It literally is a minefield, and I don’t know how people are suppose to be able to understand it! You don’t have to have all of the above factors for fair use, the less you have, the more challenging it would be to argue successfully. Really most of the issues, especially with what is and isn’t fair use is played out in the courtroom, and until it is decided upon, it’s still murky.

There is also the fact that sometimes a company won’t always file a law suit against something. Sometimes even though it might not be fair use, and could breach copyright, they wouldn’t do it. If whatever it is, is promoting the book/thing, then why would they try to stop that? Even if it was saying it wasn’t very good, they wouldn’t necessarily do anything, otherwise they might look like they were trying to quiet the critics. Other times they probably just don’t care, or think it’s more trouble than it’s worth. But that’s not reason to break copyright!

In my opinion, copyright is obviously a necessary thing. If I write something, then of course only I should be able to claim it as my own work, and only I should be getting royalties for it. After all, it is what I have created, not someone else. But does something need to be protected for possibly 160 years after it was first created? Even 100 years after creation seems a little excessive. There comes a point when copyright starts to infringe upon people’s ability to create. There are always cases of law suits against authors/creators because someone else thinks their idea was similar, just look at Harry Potter! But I guess that’s more a case of someone trying to cash in on someone else’s success, and wondering, hey, I had a similar idea, but why didn’t I become immensity rich? There is always going to be works that are similar, there just aren’t that many original ideas. And some works are going to inspire others, so why limit creativity?

And it seems that the length of copyright just keeps getting longer and longer, soon it will be  ∞ + a day (Walt Disney might like that a little too much!). I think that copyright needs to be kept, and it should not be allowed to extend any longer. I think that things should be kept copyrighted for the duration of the creators life, plus around 20 years, or 50 years as a minimum (if the work is created near the creator’s death). I don’t see a need to protect a creator’s work 50 to 100 years after they have died. I think that the work need only be attributed correctly to the person, they don’t need to earn royalties, after all they would be dead, and their descendants aren’t the ones who created the work, and would still benefit from it 20 years after their parent’s death. So I have to wonder what is the reasoning behind keeping something protected for so long?

What do you think? How long should books be copyrighted for? What’s fair use to you?

Australian Copyright Duration PDF from the Australian Copyright Council

US Copyright Duration


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