Earlier this month, over 50,000 copyrighted works entered the public domain. It would not be surprising to know that some in New York may not even understand what that means since the last time books, movies, music and other created works entered the public domain was 1998. Nonetheless, many people have been waiting for the day when films by Charlie Chaplin, books by F. Scott Fitzgerald and songs by George Gershwin would outlive the protections afforded by U.S. copyright law.
Works in the public domain are available for the public to use without fear of violating someone’s intellectual property rights. Copyright protection has an expiration date, originally about 75 years or one generation after the creator dies. Many of the works released at the beginning of the new year should have been released to the public in 1999. However, the year before, Congress extended the copyright protection for an additional 20 years.
This sudden change is often referred to as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” The extended protection resulted from aggressive lobbying from The Walt Disney Company, who didn’t want its iconic mouse falling into the hands of the public. Now, however, websites can offer these titles to the public without paying a fee, and creative minds can incorporate them into their own works without seeking permission from the copyright owners.
However, copyright law is rarely that simple, and there are ways to extend one’s protection in certain circumstances. New York copyright holders should also know there are steps they can take if their works are misused while not yet in the public domain. An experienced copyright attorney can provide guidance and assistance in any area of intellectual property law.