The term “public domain” is often tossed around in the context of copyright law without any real elaboration on what it means. The basic notion is that, at some point, copyright protection ends. This is one reason why books such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn are now so widely available.
But when does a work protected by copyright enter the public domain and exactly does that happen? In this post, we will use a Q & A format to inform you about some of these details
Is there an international standard for how long a creative work is protected by copyright?
Yes. The standard that applies internationally is generally the life of the author, plus another 50 years.
In practice, this means that many creative works don’t reach much of an audience in the public domain. That’s because, with the exception of certain time-tested classics, most works are quite ephemeral. The audience for them, 50 years after the author’s death, is apt to be small or even nonexistent.
Are there any U.S.-specific laws on copyrighted works?
Yes. In 1998, Passed the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). This law increases the copyright length by another 20 years from the international standard, to 70 years after the author’s death.
The CTEA law is sometimes called the “Mickey Mouse” extension. This is because it gave the heirs of Walt Disney another 20 years of copyright coverage on the famed mouse.
Are there any further modifications of U.S. copyright law planned?
Neither the music recording industry nor the film industry appears to be pushing proposals for Congress extend the copyright period even further.
If anything, there is some support from for rolling back the current lengthy. The support for this comes from the Author’s Guild, which represents writers.