On January 1, 1998 works including music, books, films, and plays, published during or before 1922 were in the public domain. That meant that they could be reproduced, performed, used or modified without restriction. Works that were copyrighted in 1923 should have entered the public domain on January 1, 1999, but they didn’t due to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act that added 20 years to copyright protection.
The Sonny Bono mentioned above is, of course, the Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame. By 1998 the couple had divorced, Sonny had remarried, and had been elected to Congress from California. One of the bill’s major supporters was Sonny’s wife, Mary Bono, who was elected to Congress shortly after Sonny’s death in a skiing accident on January 5, 1998. The bill that lengthened copyrights by 20 years was the idea of Walt Disney who wanted to extend the copyright protection of his most famous cartoon character Mickey Mouse who made his official debut in the 1928 film Steamboat Willie. The bill also meant that nothing more would enter the public domain until 2019. The 20-year extension has now ended, so works from 1923 went into the public domain on January 1, 2019 and the same process will continue year after year.
Major works that moved into the public domain this year include The Great American Novel by William Carlos Williams, Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Pigeons, and Edith Wharton’s A Son at the Front. Two notable silent movies, Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, are also now in the public domain. Those works will be followed by Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 2020, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney in 2021, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in 2022, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer in 2023. Steamboat Willie and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence will follow in 2024.
Speaking of copyright issues, a 2014 article from The Economist illustrates the problems of copyright laws that differ from country to country.
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In the Jim Crow south it was difficult for black folks to get the things they wanted and needed. Most businesses were owned by white people, and those that sold to blacks often required that the black people wait until all the white customers were served before they could get what they needed. Additionally, white merchants would often sell items to black customers at inflated prices. However, a book was published in 1888 (and for many years thereafter) that somewhat leveled the playing field. That book so infuriated merchants that they often burned copies of it on bonfires.
The book was the Sears, Roebuck & Company mail order catalog. It was the Amazon of its time with just about anything you wanted – from clothing to musical instruments to even a house – but you looked for items in the catalog instead of searching for them on the internet. When you ordered something, which would be mailed to your home, no one knew if you were black or white. You got it for the same price and in the same amount of time as everyone else.
The catalog was particularly popular in rural areas, but I remember quite well getting a copy of this huge book at our local Sears store every year. The catalog and the Christmas-gift “Wish Book” were discontinued many years ago, and it seems that Sears may soon go the way of their wonderful catalog.
By the way, when the old catalog was replaced with a newer copy, the old one took on another important use – at least for poor people with outhouses.
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If you like ideas you might enjoy the BBC Radio 4’s 48 animated videos that explain the history of ideas from Aristotle to Sartre. The animations are by Cognitive and the scripts are written by British philosopher and author Nigel Warburton. I find “The Trolley Problem” (video 11) particularly fascinating though I don’t know why most people (including me) would trade one life for five in the first scenario, but not in the second.
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Aaron Sorkin, creator of NBC’s The West Wing, has adapted Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird for Broadway, and it is breaking records. But it hasn’t been easy. Lee’s estate took issue with some of Sorkin’s changes – including having Atticus drink whiskey and curse – and it took a while to work out a settlement. As a Variety article notes, most records are set by Broadway musicals, not dramas. Nevertheless, America’s favorite novel seems indomitable in any form.
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Looking for some good books that were published this past year? You can find lists all over the internet, but I doubt that any website is more complete than NPR’s Book Concierge. You can scroll down to see the covers of all 319 books or you can choose categories such as Staff Picks, Book Club Ideas, Funny Stuff, Rather Long, Rather Short, Young Adult, No Biz Like Show Biz, and Let’s Talk About Sex. Once you’ve chosen a category, click on a book that interests you, and you’ll get some info on the book plus links to NPR segments that have been about the book. Absolutely awesome!
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So you’ve seen the movie Old Yeller based on the book by Fred Gipson, but you can hardly stand to think about what happens to that brave, faithful dog near the end of the story? Go to the Electric Lit article where the sad stories of noble dogs are rewritten so that they don’t die. You’ll feel much better. And you’re welcome.
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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, January 6, 2019 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET. The featured guest will be author and bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine David Corn. His books include Blond Ghost, Showdown, and Russian Roulette.