Today is Public Domain day and James Boyle reports:
In Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451, a “fireman” is a man who burns books “for the good of humanity.” Written at the height of the Cold War, the book paints a shockingly dystopian picture of a culture at war with its own printed record, one deeply infused by Bradbury’s love of books. When the book was written, Bradbury got a copyright term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years if he or his publisher wished. Most authors and publishers did not bother to renew – very few have a commercial life longer than a few years. That meant that about 93% of books and 85% of all works from 1953 passed into the public domain within 28 years. But Bradbury’s book was a commercial success. The copyright was renewed and as a result it would have been entering the public domain tomorrow – January 1, 2010 – Public Domain Day.
You could reprint it, make a low cost educational version, legally create a braille or audio book edition, even base a new film or play on it. All without asking permission or paying a fee. But copyright law has changed since then. Copyright terms have been twice retrospectively extended. Now, Fahrenheit 451 is not slated to enter the public domain until 2049.