Monday, July 27th, 2009

Copyright Anomalies

There was an interesting situation just recently with Amazon wiping copies of George Orwell’s books from Kindle devices and refunding people’s money due to their claiming that the person who uploaded those books not having the copyright holder’s permission to do so. In fact chances are that the person who did the actual upload didn’t need any approval since for many parts of the world copyright in those books expired 50 years after the author’s death and the books are now public domain. That is in fact true for most places except the USA where their copyright laws protect a copyright until 70 years after death This means that there will be a 20 year period where books are public domain except if you reside in the USA. With Kindle only being available in the USA this means that Amazon assumed that all purchasers were inadvertantly breaching copyright and deleted the books and refunded their money – but what if some Kindle owners had moved out of the USA and now resided somewhere that their purchase was completely legal? Amazon would have no legal right to remove their legitimate purchase in that case.

Even sites such as Gutenberg appear to have misinterpreted copyright laws. For example Some of Edward Elmer (Doc) Smith’s science fiction novels written back in the 1920s (over 70 years ago) are displayed on their site with a notice saying that they are out of copyright. In fact since Doc Smith died in 1965 they will not be out of copyright here in Australia until 2015 and should still be copyright in the USA until 2035. If the copyright laws were actually different in the USA back in 1965 and Doc Smith’s books are now out of copyright then surely they were also different in 1950 when Orwell died and Amazon got it wrong. They can’t both be right or has US copyright law really changed back and forth so much that books of an author who died in 1965 are out of copyright while those of an author who died 15 years earlier are still covered. The Australian laws of a straight 50 years is so much simpler.

Now how much longer is it before the song “Happy Birthday to You” is out of copyright?

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