AP NEWS

Public Domain Reopens in 2019

January 13, 2019

By James Haroutunian

Did you know that copywritten films, plays, books and music, have an expiration date?

When expired, they become part of the public domain. This means the works of art become available for reproduction, interpretation or adaptation without permission by the owner.

Old works haven’t entered the public domain since 1998, when Congress extended the 75-year copyright term. Now each year, 95-year old copywritten works will enter the public domain.

What came around this year? Films like “The Ten Commandments,” comedies from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, literary works from Robert Frost, and the perfect song: “Yes, We Have No Bananas.”

Fans of individual property rights may decry the public domain. But, legal cases have expressed the importance of the public domain on modern creative works. Heck, if Shakespeare still owned copyrights over his library, we would never have “West Side Story” or the “Lion King.”

Sometimes, simple re-publication of a previously copywritten work can have a successful effect. The film “It’s A Wonderful Life” was an apparent flop, in 1947. However, after its entry to the public domain in 1975, television networks were free to run it endlessly around Christmastime. This exposure raised the film to legendary status.

Attorney James Haroutunian practices real-estate law, estate planning and probate at 630 Boston Road, Billerica. He gladly invites questions at james@hlawoffice.com or by phone at 978-671-0711. His website blog is found at www.hlawoffice.com .

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