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Why Isn't Gatsby in the Public Domain? (eff.org)
590 points by ninthfrank07 on May 7, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 183 comments

A similar HN post, which may be of interest: "What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2012?" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4802849

I find this overextension of copyright laws maddeningly frustrating. My previous comment (unfortunately) still stands:

Also still under copyright:

"I Have a Dream" until 2038[1]. This is particularly frustrating because the copyright holders include the estate of the person who delivered the speech, but not the estate of the two other people who wrote it (and likely most of it) - not to mention the fact that, by any web-era definition, it was a public performance and also a 'general publication'.

"Happy Birthday" (certainly in the EU until 2016, and potentially in the US too until 2030, though this is disputed[2]).

There is also one movie - whose name escapes me now - which entered the public domain and was then put back under copyright protection subsequently.

In the case of "I Have a Dream", think of the societal cost of raising two generations of students without a complete copy of the speech in their textbooks (as is generally the case).

Alternatively, think of how a 2012 version of "I Have a Dream" would happen today. If hundreds of cell phone recordings of the speech were distributed halfway around the world within mere minutes after the speech, of what relevance would copyright protection be?


[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Birthday_to_You

[It's a Wonderful Life](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Its_a_Wonderful_Life)

I have heard on several occasions that the reason it is currently so popular is because it went into the Public Domain and was shown on many channels due to this.

Whether that is actually the case no one knows for sure.

It's also just a fantastic movie. It's kind of like "A Christmas Carol", but instead of Ebenezer Scrooge being saved, it's the guy who's standing up to him. It's warm, it's funny, and it asks a lot of big questions. And it doesn't appeal to a single viewer. And it's not too heavy, either - Citizen Kane might be better, but it's not really a film you can get a 6 year old to watch.

There's very few movies which are so critically acclaimed (top 100), which can appeal to adults and kids alike. It's subject is both completely commonplace, and the most important thing there is.

Also, how many good Christmas movies are there? It's got to be in the top 5 Christmas films, at least.

I honestly didn't appreciate "A Christmas Carol" until I was thirty.

The spirit of Christmas Present is Dionysus, and I think this is the Santa archetype either in prototype or metaphor. Portrayal of wealth is great social commentary. The entire play is almost entirely devoid of Christianity, the only mention of God in the whole play, is interesting. Time travel? The future represented as death? Awesome.

OT but i can't help commenting. Watching IAWLife is something I look forward to every Christmas. It's a rare Holiday movie that doesn't mention Santa or Religion (at least not directly). As I've gotten older, though, I have to say its a pretty dark movie. Only the final few scenes pull you back from the slow decent of man driven to suicide over money and regret over life's missed opportunities. The scene with the disgraced pharmacist (Mr. Gower!) haunts me; considering those moments in my own life that could have destroyed the "future" I know.

And yet it was unsuccessful on initial release, both critically and commercially.

(And while the same can be said of several films now considered classics, such films were generally unconventional (at least for their time) in a way that It's a Wonderful Life really isn't)

In my experience,

"A man who hates his life to the point of suicide is shown by a guardian angel how much the other people around him depend on him. As a result of seeing what the world would be like without him, he changes his mind about the suicide and ends up embracing the life he has, recognizing the simple yet wonderful things about it for what they are."

is not a conventional Hollywood story. Do you have any other examples? I'm mostly interested not because I want to prove you wrong, but because I actually want to be wrong and I want to watch these movies if they exist. Groundhog Day is the only other one that comes to mind.

There are plenty of non-conventional Hollywood stories in movies, you just need to look beyond the usual big studio crops.

I'm also not sure that what you describe is a non-conventional Hollywood story: "Person has hard life (or a good life that hits a serious problem), is about to give up, finds something to have faith in, warm fuzzy ending" is a pretty generic tale.

Your synopsis is more general than what I'm thinking of, so of course it's going to catch more things. It's really the specific story of: 1) protagonist's life sucks; 2) protagonist gains deeper understanding about how life works; 3) protagonist sees the same life he was living before in a new light. I guess A Christmas Carol is about like that.

I've seen quite a bit of film, but honestly, if it's really that generic, what are some other examples?

Hey cool, thanks! Incidentally I think the time loop mechanic from Groundhog Day is also from a TZ episode.

Thanks to you too!

Which only makes it more remarkable that its popularity continues to grow. That fact suggests there is a special timelessness to the film, since as you say most classics are either prototypical, unconventional, or artistically innovative (like, as was mentioned, Citizen Kane).

The closest analogy I can think of while remaining in the realm of the arts is Vermeer, who was a fairly typical Dutch genre painter unrecognized in his time and ignored for two centuries. Nowadays he is popular and beloved, but unlike Rembrandt who is held as a great master or van Gogh who is held as a quixotic genius, Vermeer himself is taken as wholly mundane; his works simply have some "je ne sais quoi" that resonates with the average person.

It appears that the copyright on the film was not renewed, leaving it in public domain, but the copyright on the story that the film was based on was renewed, which became a pivotal point after 1993, when that copyright holder was able to negotiate for licensing for more limited showings. This is covered in the URL you provide, and the details are corroborated by several other sources. It is complicated.

One of the effects of the film's popularity in the 1980s is on the popular perception of runs on banks and of bankers - I wonder how much American views of the recent financial crisis are colored by the grim visage of Mr. Potter?

I understand the situation but wanted to be brief. The important point that there was a time when the movie was in public domain and was shown quite a bit. Given the costs of licensing, assuming that is coincidence is suspect.

Since number of views affect popularity, it is possible that a classic is a classic because it became public domain. By extension, would more public domain improve things for everyone?

Fans of the cult movie "The Room" may be interested in knowing that Tommy Wiseau spent a substantial amount of the total budget on securing rights to sing "Happy Birthday".

The shorter the copyright, the less incentive there is to create something timeless and lasting (if copyright terms provide incentive to invest in creative work). If spoils are only provided for life+70 years, then an artist may have little incentive to create something that could be enjoyed for a period longer than that.

That's such a strange thing to say. When artists create their work, do they rank them by the estimated number of years of their legacy, and discard the ones that fall outside of the copyrightable timeframe? I mean, are you implying there are artists out there who aren't creating works because they feel that this one is definitely a "life+75" piece of work, and so what's the point if all I get is life+70?

Imagine a copyright that lasts only one day. Would you ever write something to appeal to an international audience? There wouldn't be time enough to translate it.

Imagine someone lives beneath a volcano and knows that at some point an eruption will destroy his house such that he no longer extracts economic benefit from it. Do you think that the way he builds his house (e.g. using straw, or stone) will differ based on whether the eruptions come every 10 years or every 100?

If artists are motivated by the economic incentive afforded by copyright, then the level of that motivation is variable based on the length of copyright.

> If artists are motivated by the economic incentive afforded by copyright, then the level of that motivation is variable based on the length of copyright.

While that's undeniably true, I think the objection is to your leap from observing that motivation significantly increases with term length at term = 1 day, to concluding it's still significantly increasing at term = life+70yrs.

Economic incentive can be measured and modelled, and while there isn't that much research into this, there is some. One Cambridge study (Pollock [2007]) found that the optimum length of copyright term is ~14 years (any longer and the economic benefits of works going into the public domain outweigh further increases in incentive to produce). Now, yes, economics models should be taken with a large grain of salt (especially ones when it's unfeasible to test their predictions). But it's a start, and certainly there don't seem to be any econ studies supporting a length anywhere near life+70 or longer.

Are you saying that home builders and engineers should get paid royalties for as long as the house stands?

No, that's the wrong analogy. Hammock's comment applied to housebuilding would be that new houses would fetch lower prices (and thus there would be less incentive to build them), if after a few years your house would cease to be your property and become a publicly owned good.

Please let me know an example of works created by a future incentive. As far as I know, in many cases, timeless and lasting works are created either for a current incentive or for something completely independent to monetary incentives.

No incentive? What about the incentive of enduring name recognition, creating timeless works, and creating art? There is incentive that transcends monetary gain and for many artists that is what they're after. I am not saying they shouldn't be compensated for their work, if they desire compensation.

This clearly explains why DaVinci didn't leave us with anything timeless and lasting. Thank you.

Do people just downvote sarcasm or are people just not recognizing it? Thought this was hilarious.

When first reading, I didn't see it as sarcasm, just as an unsubstantiated claim. Rereading it, I'm still not so sure...

Poe's law. There is no parody so outrageous that someone couldn't make the same argument either sincerely or as a troll.

The corollary of course being that when you're so far gone that you can't even imagine anyone honestly thinking differently than you--that you're unwilling to even consider arguments in favor of other opinions--that you see what you believe as obvious and everyone as insane--then of course you will respond to any honest attempt at discussion the way you just did.

Of course it's possible that the original comment is sincere, but given how objectively nonsensical it is - and the same user's follow-up comment [1] is even more hyperbolic - it is far more likely that the comment is either a) a troll, b) some kind of performance art or c) so hopelessly dogmatic that it might as well be a troll.

And for what it's worth, I consider myself reasonably capable of considering arguments in favour of opinions that differ from my own. On many occasions I have changed my mind about an issue based precisely on arguments that persuasively challenged my assumptions or beliefs. I just have an expectation that those arguments should not be ridiculous.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5674857

He gave a sincere followup. It wasn't sarcasm.

I see what you did there

I guess hammock was being sarcastic ...

Poe's law strikes again.

I can only interpret it as sincere, or very deadpan.

It's a thing around here: There is no deadpan option available on Hacker News. There are only jokes that sometimes work.

We need a deadpan tag.

I actually pondered making that into an AskHN discussion after writing my reply - proposing to add "sarcasm" and "joke" tags more readily, but it occurred to me that this is precisely how it should be and how people like it.

It's a kind of hypersensitivity that acts as quality control. Instead of firing off sarcasm quickly without too much thought and cheaply pointing it out with a "sarcasm" badge, you only get to make jokes or be sarcastic if it is very, very well thought through.

I actually got away with (meaning - positive karma) a joke the other day, although I later pointed it out in a reply to somebody who didn't realize it. Still - felt like an accomplishment and I suppose that's how it should be.

The original US copyright act protected works for 14 years and was renewable for an additional 14 if the author was alive. I think that's reasonable.


US patents last 20 years with design patents lasting 14 years. Whilst copyright and patents aren't directly comparable (design patents come close) it's hard to see how the size of this disparity makes any sense.

Engineers keep creating their entire lives, if they can help it. Why incentivise artists to capitalise endlessly on their 'one big break'? :/

Edit: or indeed by endlessly charging licensing fees for their particular idea, which is inexplicably considered to be tremendously more timeless than a similar concept in engineering. :/

IMO, the length of utility patents should be guarded way more jealously than the length of copyright.

Unlike copyright, a patent gives you a true monopoly over its subject - you can prevent other people from using an idea even if they came up with it independently. At their worst, patents can stifle further developments in a field. Copyright, even with a ridiculously long term, at least has the property that you can't use it to stop other people doing things independently, so it can't block whole fields in the same way. So the length disparity isn't necessarily unjustifiable.

Well, I am reading Gatsby again right now free on my Kindle in view of seeing the film next week. It's available on http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200041.txt.

Is this illegal for me to bring my Kindle to the U.S.?

The same book search on http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=gatsby shows nothing.

Yes, The Great Gatsby entered the public domain January 1, 2011, in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia that observe copyright for the author's lifetime plus 70 years. F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940. But in the United States, under the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1988, The Great Gatsby seems to be protected until 95 years after its first publication, which was in 1925. That may mean January 1, 2021. Project Gutenberg is well aware of the copyright terms in the countries where it operates.

I am not a lawyer. It seems to me that copyright has nothing to do with your possession of a work that you obtained legally. It involves publication, duplication, public performance, and so on.

A bit more about The Great Gatsby and copyright is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/09/robert-mccrum-co...

About copyright terms in various countries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries%27_copyright_...

(While we're discussing copyright for classic books, some might be interested to learn about the copyright for Peter Pan.)

I wouldn't put it past the copyright cartels in the US to find some way to bend copyright law to go after people bringing copies of books into the US, even just for personal use, that were obtained in a manner that would be considered illegal in the US. On the other hand, in this particular case, I don't see how the "offender" would ever even get on the cartels' radar for the act of bringing a Kindle (in personal luggage) loaded with books under copyright in the US and in the public domain elsewhere across international borders.

For any canadians who are curious, our copyright seems to be Life + 50 years.

So apparently The Great Gatsby has been public domain in canada for 20+ years already!

Kind of funny that people are talking about Fitzgerald and the rights to make money off of "Gatsby". He obviously intended to make a living off of the book but it didnt sell well. He was paid less than $2,000 for the book and sold the movie rights for $16,666...which is roughly $200K in today's money.


Too bad the book never got the recognition it deserved in his lifetime.

Authors in Fitzgerald's time made their money off of short stories. He was apparently making $4,000 per story.


I've also heard that all the 19th century novels were so long because originally they were serialized, and the author was basically paid per chapter.

>>I've also heard that all the 19th century novels were so long because originally they were serialized, and the author was basically paid per chapter.

That's exactly how A Tale of Two Cities was written.

That's how Dickens wrote most of his novels, actually.

Dumas’s complete works are over 100,000 pages in part because he was paid by the line.


Although to me the book is much more valuable, making $200k off of it is not bad.

I doubt he sold the book rights outright without an ongoing royalty. He may not have benefited personally from the sales in his lifetime as much as his legacy would seem to owe him, but I imagine his estate (and its agents) have done perfectly well by it. According to this article, they have: http://theamericanscholar.org/living-on-500000-a-year/.

Film rights may not have included a royalty, and even if they did have historically been more subject to "creative accounting".

Just like everything else in this country, because: profit.

Why does the health care system suck? because: profit.

Why do our politicians suck? because: profit.

Why do we go into war without a care? because: profit.

Why is corn syrup subsidized but not salad? because: profit.

Yay 'murica.

Some governments just want to watch the world burn.

Then the members of those governments should be indicted on a long list of felony charges against the rights of human beings on this planet. The general people suffer because all the money addicts need their fix, and so they pay our politicians to change the laws to accommodate their needs. They don't care about us and they never will as long as they control the printing presses.

Amusingly, I wanted to read Gatsby on a plane trip, so at the airport I Googled for it and downloaded the PDF from some Australian university's site. Then I read the whole thing. Later someone mentioned that it was still copyrighted and I argued that obviously not, it was freely available. But apparently not in the USA :-/

There are many things that you can download for free off the Internet. That doesn't mean that they aren't protected by copyright.

It seemed like a reasonable assumption that a 90-year-old book was in the public domain.

Australia has an author's death plus fifty years copyright expiration for books where the author died in or before 1954. Unfortunately, I think we're "catching up" to the US with our copyright laws.

There's http://gutenberg.net.au/ (no formal relationship with Project Gutenberg) which makes works available that are public domain in Australia (but not the US), and this has The Great Gatsby.

The broader point is that material which is lawfully distributable in some jurisdictions is not legal in others.

The (at least here in Germany) well known book "Mein Kampf" by Hitler loses it's copyright in 2016. The state of Bavaria uses copyright law (German: Urheberrecht) to disallow any distribution of the book. There is an ongoing discussion how the Government can prohibit future distribution of the book, now that it goes into public domain. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mein_Kampf)

It's curious to me that the government (local government in this case, it appears) would want to censor that book. The whole idea of freedom is that people should be free to make up their own mind, and being able to study what Hitler wrote is important to a study of history.

My parents have a copy of Mein Kampf on their bookshelf; not because they're Nazis but because it tells us a lot about what happened.

I had (have?) a copy as one of many textbooks for a Holocaust class. Its pretty crazy to read because quite a few things from the 30s and 40s turned out just like planned in the book. Deja Vu feelings all thru. Which led to in class discussions about which modern book, if any, seems equally likely to predict the future. Some peak oil classics were discussed, Camp of the Saints was discussed, a couple others. The unabomber ramblings and quite a few others got discredited. Lots of in class discussion about why the events of WWII seemed inevitable, why was the only response to his very public plans was eventually the D-Day invasion and is that right or wrong way to do it and how so. Its a great book for encouraging in class discussion and hopefully once its finally liberated more history classes and liberal arts synthesis classes will use it as a resource.

This is the academic tragedy of copyright. We have better educational materials for the Civil War than WWII because memoirs and such are free from the civil war.

I think it is a misguided, but also completely understandable, desire on the part of modern Germans to be seen to completely disassociate themselves from their ghastly past.

I am sure that Mein Kampf is available as a free ebook on the internet in many places (not that I've looked, but I'm sure Nazi organizations want it disseminated as widely as possible).

How does Germany plan to address that aspect? Or is this more of a symbolic effort intended to communicate disapproval and repudiation of Hitler's plan?

I have no idea how to address that aspect. I am sure many people try to make a new law to forbid "Mein Kampf", but others want to make a "annotated" version of the book. Let's see.

It definitely needs an "annotated version" as it references so much historical context that is completely unfamiliar to modern readers (so unfamiliar that most can't even separate referenced historic facts from delusions and from delusional interpretations of AH - I know I can't so that's why I never finished reading it as I should have researched too much referenced history to make sense of it). It's basically useless even as a propaganda material for modern neonazies (even they can write better copy now!), except as a bookshelf decorator (I have an edition with a pretty picture of a smiling AH among a group of happy children - it really creeps me out so it's obviously at the bottom of a dusty cabinet of historical books, but some of other views might put it to an aesthetic use :) ).

Annotated versions are freely available in Germany.

This is one difference between the US and Germany. In Germany, state governments can hold copyrights; in the U.S., states cannot.

I find it odd that we protect one segment of creatives and not another. Artists get these insane protections yet if you invent something it's up to 24 years and only if you want to spend the time and money getting the protection. What an insane racket.

Patents and copyright are completely different. Copyright protects a specific work - you could write a book that has exactly the same plot and characters as The Great Gatsby, and as long as you use different sentences and names, it would not be copyright infringement (just look at the cookie-cutter ripoffs of Shades of Grey - and for each one that's published, the editor rejected 30 more).

If you have a patent on some mechanism, nobody else is allowed to use that mechanism without your approval, and minor variations are not sufficient to bypass that.

Your broader point is a good one, but my understanding (though IANAL) is that while copyright does protect the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself, exactly where to draw the line is a bit of a fuzzy area (see "substantial similarity"[1]). It's not just a work exactly as it was expressed - a written work might infringe even with different names and wording. One test that has been proposed is if "the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities, would be disposed to overlook them, and regard [the] aesthetic appeal [of the two works] as the same". On the other hand scenes that are required by the genre generally aren't protected even if they're copied pretty closely (according to scène à faire doctrine[2]).



We should be careful about conflating principle and evidence. That looks like an evidential test to help a court decide whether copying had taken place. If you turn up with what looks like a tweaked copy of Harry Potter claiming you wrote it yourself, no-one's going to believe you -- but if you did somehow manage to prove it on the balance of probabilities (e.g. you've lived your whole life in a sealed metal box and can prove you've never read Harry Potter or something), then you're fine, you've rebutted the evidential presumption.

It may be odd, but it is predictable. Patent monopolies are a balance between corporations: Some licensees, some licencors. They spend about equal amounts of money influencing legislation.

Publishers and media consumers have a less balanced relationship. Publishers can spend more to influence legislation. So, in practice, copyright monopolies go on forever.

On the other hand, copyright protects copying but patents cover usage - even if only personally. It's reasonable for patents to have much shorter validity than copyright.

Copyright protects a lot more than just copying these days.

Are you arguing that patents should have as long a lifetime as copyright?? Also what country has a 24 year patent protection?

I'm not saying that at all. I frankly don't think copyright should be more than maybe 30 years. If you can't make money on it by then maybe someone else can.

I don't have much experience with patents but thought I had read that they were 12 and renewable with maintenance for another 12. I guess I was wrong.

> I don't have much experience with patents[...]

Usually a good idea to research your opinions further into the realm of facts before posting, then.

You don't need to brow-beat me over an honest mistake. It's not like I was an order of magnitude off or anything like that. Utility patents are 20 years and design patents are 14.

Fair enough.

This is an interesting take on the correlation/causation between the impending expirations of the Mickey Mouse copyright and the subsequent extensions of the copyright duration over the past century:


The only ethical action is to ignore copyright. Publish under CC0/public-domain. Share with your family, with your friends, with everyone. Download to your hearts content.

There is no copyright.

> There is no copyright. Well its definitely not hard to find pretty much anything even somewhat popular for download on the internet somewhere despite no small effort to prevent it.

The article mentions the TPP is on the horizon, which recently got a new trade representative/negotiator in the US.

Here is an email campaign to nag him towards good stewardship, for those interested: http://www.openmedia.org/froman?utm_campaign=Froman

The EFF also has a summary of the changeover: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5647596

If there isn't copyright protection on this work, no one will want to write another book again!

Huh? Who is saying no protection is needed? What we are saying is that the protection is far too long.

And no restrictions on non-commercial use. Don't forget that.

If you're in Australia or Canada, you can find Gatsby links for your kindle or ipad at http://go-to-hellman.blogspot.com/2013/05/its-legal-to-downl...

If you're in the US or Europe, I'd advise you not to find those links.

But if Gatsby is not in the public domain, who owns it? If Fitzgerald has no living heirs, who owns the property rights? These would normally transfer to the state of his heirs' residence at the time of their death like any other abandoned property. In the U.S. at least, intellectual property owned (as opposed to licensed) by states is in the public domain. So wouldn't Gatsby be in the public domain by this method, regardless of copyright? In other words, copyright is a property right, but when there is no one left to exercise that right, the property escheats to the state and thereby becomes property of all.

He had a daughter who went on to have 4 kids: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Scott_Fitzgerald So presumably they get the money.

I argued in a previous thread that there is nothing morally wrong with pirating older works like The Great Gatsby. Unfortunately, that doesn't help with higher-budget derivative works, but it's a start.

Because otherwise, Fitzgerald wouldn't have or have had any incentive to invest in creative work?

"What's that? You mean in 2013 people will be able to read my book for free? Well fuck it, I'll just go have another drink instead."

(Actually to be fair, I don't think "instead" is quite the right word there.)

Don't joke. Disney honestly think like that. When home video was introduced they couldn't get their heads round the fact that they wouldn't know how many people would be sitting round the tv watching a movie, and thus Disney wouldn't be able to charge all of these people. Some of them would be watching for free!

Disney have introduced things like single watch video tape (need to be sent back somewhere to be rewound); limited life DVD (special materials, sent in sealed envelope, as soon as it's opened it starts to oxidise); and they still have pretty horrible unskippable trailers and warnings and etc.

Actually, in recent years Disney has been hitting it out of the park, at least for children's features, when it comes to their DVD front-matter. They respect the "title menu" button and even pop up the absurdly-named "fastplay" option before the trailers explaining that you just hit "enter" to jump to the DVD menu (the ridiculous "fastplay" option really means "play all the trailers then immediately play the feature film, like you'd experience at the movie theatre - no menu appears".

While it's got some silly doublespeak there, the end result is that the DVD actually lets me skip the trailers. I have a lot of other children's movies that I have to mash the "skip" button or even (horror of horrors) have to fast forward the front-matter.

That's good to hear!

Eh, in the case of Disney it seems more like they are worried about copyright terms for their stuff ending imminently, not in a hundred or so years.

That's why they only threw on a few more decades (of course I expect them to go at it again when that extra time runs out) and didn't start that fight much earlier than they did. They still made that stuff after all, even during a time when copyrights were shorter, then they decided to get it raised.

My objection to Disney is that (as the article states) they built a large portion of their business by taking works in the public domain and creating derivative works.

They then slammed the door behind them by repeatedly lobbying for extended copyrights any time their 85 year old Mickey Mouse comes close to being out of copyright.

There's a reason why the copyright extension act is commonly referred to as The Mickey Mouse Protection Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Term_Extension_Act

The worst part about these extensions is that Disney's valuable characters are all (perpetually) protected by trademark. Extending the copyright on hundred year old movies only prevents them from being widely enjoyed.

>limited life DVD

I remember well the original DIVX at Circuit City:


I honestly think that failure was a huge reason why Circuit City failed. They built up so much ill will from a technically literate audience.

Wow. I was talking about (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexplay) so there's a few different systems around.

> Flexplay is a trademark for a DVD-compatible optical video disc format with a time-limited (usually 48-hour) playback time. They are often described as "self-destructing" although the disc merely turns black and does not physically disintegrate. The same technology was used by Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment under the name ez-D.

DIVX is a fascinating piece of history. One of the first "always on" DRM systems meant for common consumers, and it failed spectacularly.

Big difference between a company like Disney and an author. Copyrights should NEVER be transferable. At best, large corporations should enter limited time partnerships to promote their books (or music).

If copyrights aren't transferable authors can't sell their books. That's not going to work very well.

Authors already do exclusive deals with publisher. Such deals do not need to transfer copyright at all, as its all under contract law.

If I make a contract with someone that says I get exclusivity to publish and sell their works, and in return I give them some money, in what way do we need to do copyright assignments?

If I make a contract with someone that says I get exclusivity to publish and sell their works, and in return I give them some money, in what way do we need to do copyright assignments?

You don't, and in Germany, there's no such thing as copyright assignment - Urheberrecht is part of the author's moral rights and inalienable[1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_Germany#Transf...

As a practical matter, how is that different than assigning the copyright?

You are referring to Disney a corporation, not Disney or any other person.

My mother manages to do railroad work without a guarantee that her great-grandchildren will continue to be paid for those labors. What makes Fitzgerald different?

If your mother created a railroad things might be different, no?

Maybe, but most people seem to draw issue with "trust fund babies" and people who are born into wealth. Society does not need people living on their ancestors' fortunes, it needs people who do useful work.

Copyright exists for the benefit of society; how does society benefit by being forced to pay the descendants of F. Scott Fitzgerald just to produce copies of his work? Copyright terms were extended after The Great Gatsby was written, so it is entirely bogus to claim that we might not have it without the absurdly long copyright terms we have today.

> Copyright exists for the benefit of society

Let us be honest, it hasn't existed for this purpose for 30+ years. It now exists to protect corporate profit centers and main franchises that big business doesn't want to enter public domain so other people could distribute their work for free and create derivatives without getting sued into oblivion.

Like, well, * built* a railroad? Builders usually walk away and take another building contract, without being eternally paid for what they have built.

Right, but the owners of the RR continue to charge rent in perpetuity.

The difference between straight labor and creative work is that the artist is, in theory, building an exploitable asset. They only time they get paid directly for their labor (and labor alone) is when they're operating under a work for hire agreement (e.g. a major studio movie).

In this case, the vast armies of cast and crew are just like the RR workers. They clock in, do their day, get paid for that - and only that - then move on to the next job.

It's a rare instance where a capital-intensive creative work (which can include novels when you factor the cost of print runs, distribution, and promotion) don't involve the backers insisting on substantial control. In this sense, it's pretty similar to VCs backing startups.

If the creative talent manages to self-fund and self-distribute, it's not that they're getting paid over and over for one effort. They're commending royalties because they managed to play several roles at once.

"The difference between straight labor and creative work is that the artist is, in theory, building an exploitable asset."

How are laborers not building an exploitable asset? When last I checked, that is exactly what they do: they build exploitable assets for others.

Really, it sounds like you are arguing that Fitzgerald's publisher should be able to charge for his work in perpetuity.

Sorry. Perhaps I should have said the artist is "building an exploitable asset for themselves."

Of course, an intelligent reader would have been able to infer that's exactly simply by reading the very next line. And because this is HN, I don't make a habit of dumbing-down the discourse to a third grade level. But hey, I'm not afraid to be servicy, so if spoon-feeding is what you need, well, there you go.

And now that I've discovered that reading comprehension isn't your strong suit, I can understand why a subtle detail like the distinction between "rent" and "royalties" (which I was careful to make) would have sailed straight over your head. So where more diligent readers would register my acknowledgement of the differences between tangible and intangible assets and by extension, my awareness of the distinct sets of laws that pertain to each, you turned a comprehension failure on your part into an deliberate oversight on mine, before misconstruing your own error as open advocacy on my part for an end to term limits on copyrights.

To which all I can say is...riiight.

That argument doesn't really work when discussing copyright extensions that were proposed and passed after the author's death. Fitzgerald wrote what he did expecting the copyright protections available at the time. Extending copyright while he was still alive could have provided him incentive to create more works, but extensions after his death couldn't.

> Fitzgerald wrote what he did expecting the copyright protections available at the time.

Well, OK. That just proves he didn't need 70 to "forever less one day" in order to write it.

But the evidence is strongly on the side that he needed at least 50 years. I mean, did you see him writing Gatsby before the 1909 copyright act? No, you didn't, because before that, he'd have somewhere around 40 piddling years of copyright protection. But the 1909 act passes and sure enough, Gatsby comes out less than 15 years later.

Are you for real? Fitzgerald did not right the Great Gatsby before 1909 because in 1909 he was 13 years old.

If you have any sources about Fitzgerald's take on copyright terms I would love to read them, but without that you have absolutely no basis with which to say that there is "strong evidence" that he required more than 50 years.

If you sit on a novel or other creative work worth mentioning in any short list of the Great American $foo because 40 years of protection isn't enough, then you're not an artist. As if 10 more years makes the difference between releasing and not releasing a great work of art.

I'll also point out that it's hard to write about the roaring '20s before the Copyright act of 1909.

> I'll also point out that it's hard to write about the roaring '20s before the Copyright act of 1909.

Yep. It's almost as if such an argument would be too absurd to take seriously.

> I'll also point out that it's hard to write about the roaring '20s before the Copyright act of 1909.

Through Copyright, All Things Are Possible!

Hail Copyright!

How is that evidence? Considering that much of the content of the book was based on the time it was written and published in, it would not have been written in 1909.

Is my sarcasm detector off? Or are you just a really bizarre troll?

Your sarcasm detector is off.

I don't know; Poe's Law makes it hard. When there are people that actually believe things that absurd, it becomes to discern intent without some side channels (that are mostly missing when communicating with text).

That's why Windows 3.11 wasn't written until after the Sunny Bono act. Just think if we had strong copyright in the 50s. That's probably why we don't have flying cars yet.

Sarcasm doesn't work on the Internet.

Are you positive that this is a internet issue? I think it is a user problem.

The issue discussed in TFA is not copyright, but how long copyrights should apply before they expire. Is 73 years after an author's death long enough?

Well, clearly, without at least that period of time, Fitzgerald would not have thought writing Gatsby to be worth it, right?

At that time, assuming that I'm correct and the relevant legislation was the Copyright act of 1909, the term was 28 years, and one could renew once for additional 28 years.


1) I would love to hear you try to explain how that logically follows.

2) Copyright as it was when the book was written: It allowed for works to be copyrighted for a period of 28 years from the date of publication. Like the Copyright Act of 1790 before it, the copyrighted work could be renewed once for a second term of equal value.

How long should he or his estate be allowed to milk the cash cow?

i wonder if any author anywhere ever has decided not to write a book because of copyright issues. and, if you let me get a little counterfactual here, i wonder if that book, had they written it, would've not been garbage.

but really, it's the publisher that needs the incentive to invest in fitzgerald's creative work that copyright is about here, yeah?

Almost certainly never. I'd guess that most books go out of print (and stop making money) within a decade or two of being written. It's only a vanishingly small fraction of works that are so incredibly successful that they stay in print and continue making the author (or their estate) significant royalties beyond the author's lifetime.

Looking at it this way, I'm thinking that paid copyright renewals are the right way to go. Have the initial copyright last maybe 10 years, then require the rights holder to pay a small fee (something like $50, maybe?) to renew the copyright for another decade. If a work isn't making the author at least $5 a year, it probably belongs in the public domain.

I'd go further than that: most books probably go out of print after a single run, and will be unavailable within a single year.

Remember that when you go into a big chain bookstore, all the books you are seeing have already outperformed most by getting shelved by a major retailer.

there is some great research on what books are available at amazon in terms of when they were written. there is a graph that shows a huge hole with long copyright where books are not reprinted. can't find it at the moment.

yeah, but if the copyright holder were, say, disney, then they would just perpetually renew it, because even if it isn't making them money now doesn't mean that wouldn't want to make it into a line of merchandise and its associated movie sometime down the line.

Then make the renewal fee double (or something) each time it's renewed. Eventually the cost of renewing the copyright will be more than it's worth to the rights holder.

In any case, the fact that there is a deep-pocketed rights holder for those works means that those works are being cared for, to some degree at least. The ones we really have to worry about right now are those that are lost and forgotten before their copyright expires.

Which is fine. Let their works die off while others flourish.

You guys ever read 'Melancholy Elephants' by Spider Robinson?


The public didn't write it, Mr. Fitzgerald did. Therefore, both he and his heirs are entitled to reap the profits of that work. I have zero problems with literature holding copyright for as long as someone is willing to manage that copyright.

So the company who owns the rights to it can make a nice chunk of change off new book purchases (especially the purchases made by the buzz from the movie).

I think its in the public domain in other countries (i.e. australia)...silly that you could get it for free down there and schlep it back here.

Meyer Wolfsheim would never hear of it. :-)

Article doesn't answer question posed in title.

It's a fashion to bash copyright laws but lot of people forget that without economic instrument called copyrights it would be almost impossible to produce/consume works that bears high risk/investment.

If you had a house, you don't expect it to become part of public domain after 100 years. You neither expect wooden table you made in weekend or jewelry you designed to be automatically in public domain after X years. Infect you would probably argue that government has no right to confiscate your property and it should rather be inherited by whomever you desire forever after your death. Why music/books/software that you create should be any different?

> It's a fashion to bash copyright laws but lot of people forget that without economic instrument called copyrights it would be almost impossible to produce/consume works that bears high risk/investment.

What are you talking about? No one has a problem with limited term copyright like you are talking about. We have a problem with infinite term copyright.

How does retroactively extending copyright length provide any of the benefits you are claiming?

> Why music/books/software that you create should be any different?

They aren't any different. You are allowed to bequeath music, books, software (sometimes) to people. Haven't you ever given a CD away?

If you are trying to refer to intellectual property, then you are talking about a made-up right. The only reason we even grant this made-up right is because there is a quid pro quo. If there is no cultural/societal benefit to enforcing this made-up right, then why shouldn't we unmake it?

No one has a problem with limited term copyright

Well, some of us do. But it's certainly not the majority, even here.

Even the Pirate Party (at least the UK one) only wants to reduce copyright length, not abolish it.

Well, if I was to advocate among the general public for a policy change, I'd advocate for something more palatable as well. You shouldn't assume those are necessarily the end goals of the party members. It might just be a compromise.

Because if your neighbour builds a house you still have one.

The idea behind copyright is to enrich the public domain, not to enrich rights holders.

Big false dichotomy. That director most likely could have made Romeo and Julet even if they'd had to pay a licence fee, just like how he's now managed to make a film adaptation of Gatsby, which will likely also be a box office success and enrich the culture of film.

This really just boils down to some people being mad that they can't make money off derivative works because other people are making money off the original work. Boo hoo.

If you create something, it belongs to you.

I guess somebody didn't learn this lesson in kindergarten, and still wants to whine and complain in an effort to effectively nationalize what is rightfully private property.

That is a very simplistic take on the issue at hand. Most people will agree that a limited-scope copyright makes sense as a way to incentivize production of creative works.

But there is nothing inherent or "rightfully" private property about things you create - it's a right granted by governments in order to promote creative behavior that is seen as good for society at large.

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen giant entertainment industries lobbying for an ever-expanding copyright term. (Some people say endless, because it has expanded faster than time has passed.) In addition, they have successfully created a cultural belief that physical property and intellectual property should be treated the same despite the fact that they are inherently different. (When I take your wallet you no longer have it, but when I take your ideas we both have them.)

If anything, the 20th century saw a massive effort to privatize our shared public culture as it was created. You can make the argument that we are better off as a result of this privatization, but it's simply incorrect to frame this as people trying to nationalize what is inherently private property.

I'm not sure what you were taught in school, but there are massive differences between physical property and intellectual property. The very notion of intellectual property, the assignment of rights and their enforcement by governments is quite new:


Why should MY tax dollars be used to enforce YOUR copyright?

If you want to protect it, go hire your own police and build your own courts; stop using mine.

I pay taxes, too.

In an ideal society, I wouldn't be opposed to those seeking copyright enforcement paying the costs, although the costs would presumably eventually be passed on to the infringers. We will never see such a society in our lifetimes, though, so it's a somewhat moot point.

The original purpose of IP laws are an agreement with society that the author would get a temporary monopoly (including legal protection) in exchange donating it society after a reasonable amount of time. The alternative is keeping it a trade secret, which can restrict what you can do with your idea.


> what is rightfully private property

If it was private then no one would have the ability to copy it. If you keep your works private, you get infinite copyright.

That's the most insightful answer to the nonsense spouted by the Randist above.

If you care so much about your "private property", keep it entirely to yourself. That's maximum "security".

'But wait', says the "owner" - 'I want to make money off of it!'

Ah! Well, you're saying you want to introduce it to society? You want to have something of that societal construct of "money" in return for your private property?

'Yes, I worked very hard for this and it should be obvious that I deserve to be rewarded!'

And of course you should! So, let's see, you really did something great there, here is a thing for you: "Copyright Protection". We like your work so much, that we want you to be the only one in control of making profit from it for a long time.

'But I want more!'

Alright, actually, we want you to be that person as long as you live.

'But I want more!'

What, you mean more than... for life? Sheesh, alright, just because it's you: Society will extend it for you for decades after you have died.

'But I want more!'

Sheesh, alright, let's say we add some mucky legal stuff where you can name rights-holders who can "protect" your copyrights far beyond those limits, proportional to how much money you put into it.

'But I want more!'

Wait a second - what more do you want?

'I want forever. I also want all the money. For me and mine and myself.'

Well, turns out, you're just a mortal like all the other humans that make up the society that you are so happy to profit from in blissfully ignorant entitlement and so unwilling to give back to in return.

Should have kept it to yourself.

I suspect this "Fitzgerald" fellow copied every single one of those words in his "book" from the dictionary. None of it belongs to him.

"Belonging to" is just what we agree on together for a short time. In the end, everyone dies and no one gets to keep anything.

I know this isn't a very HN thing to do, but ...

relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIN4tC5Zwx0

I was trying to remember where I'd seen that and just couldn't put my finger on it. And there it is! thanks.

I suppose you begin to learn what is ethical and what isn't in kindergarten. What's legal is an entirely different matter. Copyright is just a government regulation.

Copyright is not private property. Its a state granted privilege of exclusivity which prevent everyone except the author to exercise their rights of private property of books, paintings and other works of art or information.

I believe you to be using my private property without permission.

That's actually pretty funny.

If there were owners of VH's IP who were opposed to this kind of casual use, I'd have no problem using a different handle. Unless the name is also generic French name, I'm not sure if it is or not.

You should look up Andrew Joseph Galambos (who changed his name from Joseph Andrew Galambos as to not infringe on his father's "property"), I'm sure you'll like his thoughts on the issue.

Meanwhile, I leave you this: http://mises.org/journals/jls/15_2/15_2_1.pdf

In the US, the federal constitution was written from the point of view that you have rights, and that the government has enumerated powers. Except for one thing: limited term monopolies. That right is granted by the government. It's not considered a natural right.

One of these rights is not like the others. One of these rights is not the same. Can you guess which right...?

I don't look to the Constitution to determine what is right and wrong.

"Hey, wait, get your own dirt." -- God.

"Hey, wait, get your own ideas." -- Society.

In theory it's the distinctive manner of expressing ideas that is protected. We know that in practice it's complicated.

Point being, Fitzgerald did not, and could not, do his work in a vacuum. Copyright has to be a limited bargain, or else it amounts to cultural theft.

Under that theory, how do we (society) handle duplicate invention? It happens a lot more than you might think: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1270160

Also, consider KMP string matching algorithm. Who owns that idea?

Duplicate inventions happen all the time:

Mendeleev (Mendeleyev) spent part of his life re-discovering and re-inventing stuff... because most of the inventions and discoveries took time to spread to his native Russia.

And Mendeleev's own Periodic Table was re-discovered :) by Lothar Meyer


No, that's not true. In the US, we've chosen to give you a time limited monopoly to commercially develop many types of art you express, but in no way is it naturally yours. We are allowed to copy the ever living hell out of it for a large number of reasons from the second it's made.

Show me a truly original creative work and I'll side with you, but since nearly every creative work is derivative in one form or another, it is important to have a large public domain to draw "inspiration" from.

I wrote an opera in a language I made up, using a scale and chords of my own invention, which obviously can only be played on instrumentation that I have devised. It's very nice, but now I need to find some viewers who have been kept in sensory deprivation their entire lives in order to truly detach my work from cultural context. Whenever that happens I am sure I will sell many tickets.

No creative work has value unless it is substantially derivative.

In parent's profile: obligatory Ayn Rand-related quote...

As I am always reminding the neighborhood kindergarteners:

One day you will die and on that day you will lose everything you have.

"That's my hole, boy. What the fuck is your dirt doing in my hole? Get your fucking dirt out of my hole right fucking now!"

Anyone can claim ownership of anything. Doesn't make it so.

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