“Hundreds of thousands of books, movies and songs were close to being released into the public domain when Congress extended the copyright by 20 years in 1998…. [That] would have cost entertainment giants like the Walt Disney Co. and AOL Time Warner hundreds of millions of dollars. AOL Time Warner had said that would threaten copyrights for such movies as Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.” –Supreme Court Upholds Copyright ExtensionWired (AP))
Disney doesn’t want to lose hold of Mickey Mouse, so 20th century scholarship will suffer. I chose the years 1920-1950 as the time span for my dissertation, figuring that as I worked my way through my academic career, the plays I had studied would one by one come out of copyright, and I could publish critical editions that would be available at an affordable rate. Looks like that ain’t gonna happen. Since hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, I figure it would be sensible to tax old copyrighted materials, making it more and more expensive for copyright holders to maintain their monopoly on a particular title. The money gained could support the scholars who will work on the material that copyright holders feel is not worth paying the extra money to protect beyond a reasonable limit (say, 25 years free, another 25 years if you’re still alive and you still want it, then another 25 years for a modest fee, after which each 10 years the company has to report how much money they made off of the material, and pay a user fee that supports the common domain. Sigh. Dream on, Jerz.