In my humble opinion the current state of copyright law is a serious inhibitor to the production of lesser known or nearly forgotten works. Maybe I have this wrong. If so please enlighten me.
We all need copyright protection. I am most clearly and sincerely FOR copyright protection. I have actually been a victim of copyright theft myself, where others have blatantly plagiarized information from another website of mine.
But there are problems. These problems stem around the length of the copyright and the strangle hold it gives to large publishing companies.
As it stands today, copyright extends from the death of the author for 70 years. It was less.
In fact there was the farcical situation at one time where the law changed and items that were out of copyright magically came back into copyright. How stupid is that?
If that wikipedia article made your eyes glaze over here is a sheet from the UK copyright service which has to be said, is clearer.
The mess of copyright law today means nobody (unless you are a lawyer) is sure of how to go about re-publishing a 100 year old work. Of course big publishers want to keep it this way. They don’t give a toss about lesser unprofitable work being lost in the mists of time.
The result is that these nearly forgotten 100 year old books, however important they are, slide into further obscurity and are lost.
Copyright Law Follys
Let me give you two examples:
- A book of poetry written by an Australian soldier on the Gallipoli beach-head in 1915/16
- A novella written by a young writer documenting his experiences on a tramp steamer in 1920
Believe me. Both books are important records of their time. But nobody wants to publish them. Not just because they won’t make any money, but because doing so is fraught with legal dangers.
One author died in 1976. The other I assume must be dead. But his date of death is unknown. Further more, the second author was Finnish and (I think) used a pseudonym. Pick the bones out of that one!
The families of these authors are untraceable and are probably unaware their ancestor was even an author.
From my reading of the law it is highly likely both of these 100 year old books are still in copyright. But unless we are careful both will be forgotten. They will be lost. That would be a tragedy.
My issue here is that if you publish them in good faith (neither is going to make much or maybe any money) then you are still breaking the law. You risk getting sued. Which for a small amateur publisher could be catastrophic. Great for the lawyers maybe. But not for the rest of us.
We are losing important literature because the fat-cats have wound copyright law around their fingers. There must be a better way of running a fair copyright system that does not force lesser works into obscurity.
This is my take on what I’ve read about copyright law. If you know better I would dearly like your opinion.