Tidbits and the Ambiguity of the Public Domain
What is the public domain?
The public domain is an enormous mass of intellectual property
which includes songs, books, movies, legislation, etc. that
is open and available for the public to use freely. Works
that are copyrighted fall into the public domain after a certain
period of time, which has fluctuated a great deal over the
past half century. In fact, copyright extensions have been
increased at least eleven times over the past forty years.
Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain.
Before the Copyright Act of 1976, individuals were forced
to register their created works with the Copyright Office
in order to protect their works. If the creators failed to
do so, they had little protection because there was no copyright
of their work and it would then fall directly into the public
domain. However in 1976, the Copyright Act was passed and
gave automatic copyright protection to works once they were
created. Unfortunately, there has not been a cumulative list
of public domain works created for easy reference. This would
be a daunting task because the list and rules are ever changing.
A work is copyrighted when that work has been created in
some type of tangible form like writing or recording. In the
case of a single creator, it is now protected for the creator's
life plus seventy years. If the work is created as a work-for-hire
or in conjunction with one or more individuals, the work is
copyrighted for 95 years after the first publication or 120
years from creation, whichever comes first.
In 1998, Congress created the Sonny Bono Copyright Term
Extension Act (SBCTEA) which extended copyright protection
for both existing and future works by twenty years.
Currently the New America Foundation, also known as The
Center for the Public Domain, is working towards protecting
the present and future of the public domain through education
and leadership. This organization has earmarked different
digital information that is likely to be in the public domain
such as databases, open-source software, freeware, etc. Creative
Commons is also a public domain friendly organization,
that was created by Lawrence Lessig, professor and attorney
at Stanford University, that helps creators of works donate
them to the public domain or creates licenses for the works
for minimal fees.