Works in the “public domain” when copyright expires: an overview – Intellectual Property


Literary, theatrical, musical, artistic and architectural works, as well as films and sound recordings, are all protected by copyright law. Further, the Indian Copyright Act defines “literary works” as including books, computer programs, compilations and tables as part of the definition. The law, on the other hand, does not use the availability of content to the general public or a subset of the general public as a criterion for determining whether or not it is in the public domain. On the contrary, whether or not a content is in the public domain is determined by whether or not it is protected by copyright. (The term “public domain” is not defined in copyright law.) Content enters the public domain only when copyright no longer exists in the protected content. The most common way for this to happen is when the copyright term associated with the content expires. This blog will provide insight into what happens when the copyright of a creative work expires.

Why aren’t copyrights granted indefinitely?

The creation of art and creative forms, as well as their enjoyment, are considered important for human life. Copyrights have emerged as a difficult balancing act between remunerating authors and benefiting public life by making art accessible. As a result, copyrights were never intended to be tools for indefinite monetization and marketing by the creator, who only has a certain number of years to profit from his work. The emergence of the Internet has also changed public opinion and has had a significant impact on the landscape of copyright concerns. Large online companies, such as Google and Wikipedia, have become vocal opponents of copyright expansion.

American scenario

All works published in the United States before 1924 lost their copyright as of 2019. In other words, if the work was published in the United States before January 1, 1924, you can use it without permission in the United States. Whether the work was written by a single author, a group of authors or an employee, certain rules and dates apply (a work made for hire). Between 1998 and 2018, no new works entered the public domain as a result of legislation passed in 1998. In 2019, works published in 1923 will no longer be available. Works published in 1924 expired in 2020, and so on.

When Mickey Mouse’s original copyright was about to expire in 1976, copyright law underwent significant revisions. The amendment increased the term of copyright for works copyrighted before 1978 to the life of the author plus fifty years after his death, and to 75 years for corporate works.

If a work was written by a single author and published after 1977, the copyright will not expire until 70 years after the death of the author. If a work has been written by many writers and published after 1977, it will not expire until the last surviving author dies, 70 years later. a retroactive extension of copyright term, changed the term once again. It extended the term of protection to the life of the author plus 70 years, and to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication for works of collective authorship, whichever comes first. By law, works created after 1923 were not to be released into the public domain until 2019 or later, depending on the date of creation.

Indian scenario

In India, copyright generally lasts sixty years after the death of the author or sixty years after the publication of the work, depending on the nature of the content. Accordingly, when the term expires, the content is released into the public domain. (However, if public domain content is edited, the edited version may not be public domain in some situations. Also, if a public domain work is translated, the translation may not be public domain.) Given that copyright is an asset that has evolved into more conventional ownership in terms of its owner’s rights over the past few decades, it is clear that copyright will pass to the owner’s heirs or legal representatives after the death of the owner. When a legal representative or successor acquires ownership of a copyright, he or she exercises full control over the copyright rights. Until the protection period expires, he has the right to use it for any monetary gain. However, monetary exploitation such as licensing and assignment must be made in the original author’s name unless the original author has also waived his or her moral rights. Accordingly, the original author receives appropriate recognition of his rights for the duration of the copyright protection period.

By the mere fact that it is publicly available or accessible, public information or publicly available content is not considered to be in the public domain. Reproduction of public information / publicly available information would normally require a license unless (a) the public information is in the public domain under copyright law, (b) the law relevant explicitly exempts unauthorized reproduction from claims of infringement, or (c) the copyright doctrine permits unauthorized reproduction through principles such as fair use (although Indian recognition of the doctrine is debatable) such as scenes to do Where mergerwhich may either negate copyright protection or serve as a defense against infringement claims.

Yash Raj and FICCI approached the Ministry of HRD in 2008, requesting that the term of copyright be extended to 95 years, as was the case in the CTEA. The government has welcomed film producers’ suggestions to extend the copyright period under the Copyright Amendment Act 2010. Although Parliament did not agree to extend the term of copyright to 95 years as it did in the United States, it did change the law governing film copyright. The modification allowed a film’s producer and lead director to work together on a project. A principal director’s copyright will be protected for 70 years following the amendment, while a producer’s copyright would only be protected for 60 years. As a result, the protection period for films was extended from 60 to 70 years.

Using Public Domain Works When They Expire: Pitfalls and Pitfalls

When relying on the public domain status of a work, check that the version you intend to use is in the public domain. PD’s works may be second copyrighted for later copies or modifications (eg, translations, revisions, annotated and illustrated editions). Copyright refers to the new layer of original content added by the second author in later copies or adaptations. It is essential to use only the original PD version and not any later copyrighted version that may contain editorial interventions to avoid legal entanglements. The New Folger Library Edition of Hamlet is not in the public domain, unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Remember that many works produced before 1923 were modified later (e.g. Dale Carnegie’s Public Speaking, A Practical Course for Business Men (1915)), and these later editions are subject to copyright protection and the payment of royalties. Therefore, in the event of a legal issue, you should keep a safe copy of the DP work you referred to or worked from.

The following is perhaps the most ingenious of all traps. Even if a work is in the public domain in the United States, it may still be copyrightable in other countries. For example, a work by an American author that is in PD in the United States due to a failure to renew may still be protected in countries such as Germany, where copyright protection is determined by date of the author’s death rather than a fixed period of years. If you want to publish a public domain work in another country, you may need to get permission from the author if they died within the last 70 years. If you do not obtain permission, you will be vulnerable to one or more legal actions from other countries. In 1996, the international trade treaties of GATT and NAFTA restored copyright to many foreign works that were previously in the public domain by complying with the technical requirements of U.S. law (including notice of copyright and renewal requirements). The foreign work must be copyrighted in the “originating” country and not first published in the United States in order to be picked up. Without permission from the copyright holder, revived works that are no longer in the public domain may not be used.

Determine if a work is in the public domain

Knowing when a copyright expires will allow you to take advantage of the wealth of public domain content. Accordingly, having a basic understanding of copyright law is beneficial. All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain in the United States, according to a useful rule of thumb. Millions of other works have fallen into the public domain due to (a) lack of renewal; or (b) failing to affix proper notice, in addition to pre-1923 works. was created.

The Copyright Act of 1976 and the Berne Convention of 1988, the last two major copyright amendments preceding the CTEA, had far-reaching effects on copyright registrations, according to a published study in 2003. Another 2006 study found that countries that extended copyright terms from author’s life plus fifty years to author’s life plus seventy years between 1991 and 2002 have witnessed a huge boom in film production. This clearly demonstrates that the extension of copyright is beneficial for creativity.

In a word,

If you are looking for works to modify, reuse or republish in the public domain, be aware that there are many pitfalls for the unwary. If you are unfamiliar with the intricacies of copyright law, professional assistance is needed to fully understand the rights associated with public domain works. While there are plenty of public domain gems out there, including classic movies and lesser-known works, it’s worth knowing that all that glitters isn’t gold. As this article suggests, licenses from rights holders and identifiable individuals may still be required. Therefore, just because something is publicly available does not mean that it is in the public domain, regardless of who originally copyrighted it or who produced it.

Works in the “public domain” when copyright expires: an overview

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.