It’s January 1st, the day on which the calendar rolls over, and with it, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books, articles, photographs, works of art, unpublished documents, and other “works”, in all areas of human endeavour, fall out of copyright to become the common cultural property of all citizens of a given country.
Yes, it’s Public Domain Day, 2007!
In most of the world, copyright subsists in a protected work for the life of the author, and for fifty years after the author’s death. To simplify things, most countries also provide that copyright subsists until the end of that fiftieth calendar year.
Accordingly, in the life+50 universe, this is Public Domain Day for works of sole authorship by such a diverse group of dead authors as Benjamin Apthorp Gould Fuller, American philosopher; Isham Jones, American musician and songwriter; Murray Fletcher Pratt, American historian and science fiction writer; Friedrich Panzer, German germanist; Ludwig Köhler, Swiss theologian and philologist; William Henry Davis “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, American politician; Ernst Fuhrmann, German author and photographer; Johannes Jørgensen, Danish poet and biographer; Ernest Joseph King, American naval officer; Wilfrid Bovey, Canadian educationist and writer; Haniel (Clark) Long, American poet and author; Agnes Maude Royden, British suffragette; Reginald John Campbell, British clergyman; William Edward Lunt, American historian; Carlos Ibarguren, Argentinian author and legal scholar; “Katherine Hale” (pseudonym of Amelia Beers Warnock Garvin), Canadian journalist and critic; Paul Bonatz, German architect; Mina Benson Hubbard, Canadian explorer; Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Fadeev, Russian novelist; James Edward Edmonds, British army officer and military historian; Pio Baroja, Spanish novelist; Albert Galloway Keller, American sociologist; Ernest Bilodeau, Canadian journalist and author; Joseph Wirth, Chancellor of Germany; Paul Rostock, German surgeon and Nazi-era official; H.L. Mencken, American journalist and author; Benjamin Platt Thomas, American historian and biographer; Julius (Judah David) Eisenstein, Russian -American author and hebraist; Walter Gieseking, French pianist and composer; Carl Brockelmann, German semitic scholar; Frigyes Riesz, Hungarian mathematician; Alphonse Désilets, Canadian agronomist and poet; Percy Marks, Australian novelist and scholar; Georges Simard, Canadian archivist and historian; Wilhelm Miklas, Austrian politician; Alben Barkley, Vice-President of the United States; Carl William Drepperd, American antiquarian; Sergei Petrovich Melgunov, historian; Derwent Stainthorpe Whittlesey, American geographer; Clive Bigham, Viscount of Mersey, British historian; Karel Polák, Czech historian and literary critic; Witold Hurewicz, Polish-born mathematician; Art Tatum, American jazz pianist; Walther Schoenichen, German biologist; Bernhard Joseph Stern, American sociologist; Oskar Kaufmann, Hungarian architect; F. Sherwood Taylor, British chemist and science historian; Marcel Griaule, French anthropologist and ethnologist; Austin McDowell Patterson, American chemist; Josef Hoffmann, Austrian architect and designer; Henry Wickham Steed, British historian, journalist and editor of The Times; Ernst Robert Curtius, German historian and archaeologist; John Webster Spargo, historian; Dan McCowan, Canadian naturalist and historian; Jaroslav Krejčí, Czechoslovakian legal academic, politician, and Nazi collaborator; Albert Prazák, Czechoslovakian political leader; Giovanni Papini, Italian essayist, poet and novelist; Gottfried Benn, German poet; Nina Hamnett, Welsh artist and writer; Georges Bouchard, Canadian essayist and historian; Hiram Bingham, American explorer and politician; Earl H. Morris, American anthropologist and archaeologist; Louis Bromfield, American writer; Paul Mantoux, French economic historian; Charles MacArthur, American playwright; Sarah Wambaugh, American historian and international affairs specialist; Rodolphe Girard, Canadian author and journalist; Bertolt Brecht, German playwright and poet; Léon Vallas, French musicologist; Burghard Breitner, Austrian surgeon, professor, and politician; Maurice Gagnon, Canadian art historian; C. Turner Joy, American naval officer; Lilian M. Beckwith Maxwell, Canadian author; Arnold D. Margolin, historian; Alexander Grechaninov, Russian composer; Gerald Finzi, British composer; Walter de la Mare, English poet, short story writer, and novelist; Tommy Dorsey, American musician; Louis Charles Karpinski, American mathematician and science historian; Edwin Corle, American writer; A. A. Milne, English author (”Winnie the Pooh”); Charles S. Johnson, American sociologist and academic; Christopher La Farge, American author, artist, and architect; Wayte Raymond, American numismatist; Maxine Kaufman, novelist; James G. Needham, American biologist and poet; Billy Bishop, Canadian WWI flying ace; E. T. Whittaker, British mathematician; Paul Carl Albert Rohrbach, German theologian, official and author; John A. Fleming, American geologist; Don Lorenzo Perosi, Italian composer; Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Indian scholar and jurist; Louis Madelin, French historian; Nathan Van Patten, American librarian and bibliographer; Charles Kenneth Leith, American geologist; Frederick Webb Hodge, American anthropologist and archaeologist; Arundell Esdaile, British bibliographer; James Alexander Calder, Canadian politician; Chauncey McKinley Louttit, American psychologist; Samuel Alexander White, Canadian adventure novelist; Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Catalan architect; Percy MacKaye, American poet and playwright; Alexander Rodchenko, Russian artist, photographer, and sculptor; Elmer Drew Merrill, botanist; Clarence Augustus Chant, Canadian physicist and astronomer; Adamian Arshak, Armenian music and art researcher; Irène Joliot-Curie, French physicist; Norman Scott Brien Gras, Canadian-born economic historian; Sir Frank Brangwyn, British artist and illustrator; Lars Sonck, Finnish architect; Abbé Arthur Lacasse, Canadian poet; Risto Heikki Ryti, Finnish President; Rafael Karsten, Finnish religious scholar; Robert Mitchell Lindner, American psychoanalyst and skeptic; Charles Ryder Smith, British missionary and theologian; Mgr. Léonce Boivin, Canadian priest and historian; Ammon Monroe Aurand, American folklorist; Adolphe d’Espie de La Hire, French fantasy and science-fiction author; William Ferguson Tamblyn, Canadian professor of English literature; Lyonel Charles Feininger, German painter; Fr. Edmund Aloysius Walsh, American Jesuit priest and professor; Sir Travers Humphreys, British lawyer and jurist; Robert McAlmon, American poet and novelist; Ernest Richard Hughes, British sinologist; Paul Gadenne, French novelist; Eugene Willis Gudger, American ichthyologist and cetologist; Homer Stillé Cummings, American politician; Max Beerbohm, English theater critic; Julien Benda, French novelist and philosopher; Reinhold Glière, Russian composer; Dorothy Violet Wellesley, Duchess of Wellington, English socialite and author; Gustave Charpentier, French composer; Diedrich Hermann Westermann, German missionary and linguist; Lucien Paul Victor Febvre, French historian; Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, Earl of Bessborough, British politician and Governor-General of Canada; Sir Alexander Korda, Hungarian-born film director; Paul de Maleingreau, Belgian organist and composer; Maurice Lalonde, Canadian historian and politician; Émile Borel, French mathematician and politician; William Addison Dwiggins, American author, illustrator and designer; Jackson Pollock, American painter; Frederick Soddy, English chemist; Clarence E. Mulford, American adventure novelist (”Hopalong Cassidy”); Yrjö Henrik Toivonen, Finnish linguist; Arthur Leighton Guptill, American artist and illustrator; Cécile Lagacé, Canadian writer; Austin Osman Spare, English artist; George Sarton, Belgian- American science historian; Walter Sydney Adams, American astronomer; and Sheila Kaye-Smith, English novelist; to name just a few!
This is also the date on which works of joint or multiple authorship, whose last-surviving author died in 1956, come into the public domain in the life+50 universe. This is the case, for example, with the wonderful “Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America”, published in 1943 by Merritt Lyndon Fernald (d. 1950) and Alfred Charles Kinsey (d. 1956).
(Yes, that Alfred Charles Kinsey!)
Most countries, and most inhabitants of this planet, are in the standard Berne copyright universe of life+50. However, this is also Public Domain Day in the quarter or so of the world where the copyright term has foolishly been extended to life+70.
In the life+70 universe, today marks the entry into the public domain of published works of sole or last-surviving authorship by British statistician Karl Pearson; German historian and polymath Oswald Spengler; British anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin; British surgeon and medical professor Sir Berkeley Moynihan; Australian novelist and war correspondent Alfred Arthur Greenwood Hales; American writer and novelist George Allan England; American author Edward Hagaman Hall; British historian Charles Sanford Terry; Alaska governor Scott C. Bone; American publisher William Webster Ellsworth; British historian Sir Richard Lodge; English poet and humorist Harry Graham; English writer and poet Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes; French historian and journalist Jacques Bainville; Scottish-Canadian journalist and archivist Alexander Fraser; French poet and historian Pierre de Nolhac; Russian composer Aleksandr Glazunov; Canadian poet Ruth Collie (pseud. “Wilhelmina Stitch”); American evangelist William Haven Daniels; American anthropologist Thomas Talbot Waterman; American writer Marie Van Vorst; German geophysicist and engineer Conrad Schlumberger; Canadian historian and archivist Arthur George Doughty; American legal scholar Thomas Adkins Street; British botanist Margaret Jane Benson; British author and popular historian Louise Creighton; Newfoundland Governor David Murray Anderson; Spanish author Joaquín Abati y Díaz; Austrian-Swedish physician Robert Bárány; American Vice-President Charles Curtis; Canadian journalist and historian Arthur Hugh Urquhart Colquhoun; American writer Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews; Canadian theologian George Coulson Workman; Scottish journalist and author Donald Alexander Mackenzie; German Egyptologist Alfred Wiedemann; Irish writer Justin Huntly Mccarthy; Scottish Physiologist John Scott Haldane; American writer Elizabeth Robins Pennell; spiritualist author Violet (Nee)Chambers Tweedale; British ghost story writer M. R. James; Icelandic electrical engineer Frímann Bjarnason Arngrímsson; American historian Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer; Australian journalist and politician George Mure Black; Italian composer Ottorino Respighi; British author John Collis Snaith; Canadian fisheries biologist Edward Ernest Prince; Canadian professor Edmund Kemper Broadus; Canadian legal scholar and politician John Augustus Barron; Canadian historian and antiquarian Gerald Ephraim Hart; French writer Juliette Adam; American novelist and women’s rights campaigner Mary Johnston; French economic historian Henri Eugène Sée; French historian Marc de Villiers du Terrage; American historian James Harvey Robinson; German philosopher Moritz Schlick; British author Lilian Julian Webb (pseud. “Cynthia Stockley”); New Zealand poet and journalist Arthur Henry Adams; Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby; English author G. K. Chesterton; American detective novelist Arthur B. Reeve; English scholar and poet A.E. Housman; pioneering American “muckraker” journalist Lincoln Steffens; British surgeon Sir Charles Alfred Ballance; Spanish dramatist and novelist Ramón del Valle-Inclán; British military officer Edmund Henry Hynman, Viscount Allenby; American legal scholar and politician James Montgomery Beck; British author Rudyard Kipling; American diplomat Charles Hitchcock Sherrill; Russian author Maxim Gorky; Prince Edward Island Premier Walter Maxfield Lea; British novelist and playwright Emily Morse Symonds; British novelist and suffragette Beatrice Harraden; Canadian historian Charles Napier Bell; Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca; Irish physicist Alexander Anderson; American politician and author William Hope Harvey; Victoria state Premier John Allan; German-born mathematician Stefan Cohn-Vossen; French musicologist and composer Julien Tiersot; Russian medical scientist Ivan Pavlov; French poet and critic Gustave Kahn; British writer Effie (Adelaide) Maria Albanesi; Spanish author and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno; Dutch poet and novelist Jan Jacob Slauerhoff; Italian novelist and dramatist Luigi Pirandello; Scottish author and nationalist politician R.B. Cunninghame Graham; British economist and journalist Harold Cox; Indian author Dhan Gopal Mukerji; “Father of Indian Co-operation” Sir Frederick Augustus Nicholson; Canadian historian and author Agnes Christina Laut; Joseph Conrad’s wife Jessie Conrad; Norwegian-American author and diplomat Rasmus B. Anderson; French poet and novelist Henri de Régnier; and Canadian historian and editor Thomas Guthrie Marquis; among many others.
In the United States this is also Public Domain Day under the life+70 rule for unpublished works by those listed above who died in 1936, and for all other unpublished works by any other member of the “Class of ‘36”.
The dead hand of dead-letter copyright is lifted on the works of these, and many other authors and composers, and lesser-known ordinary people who left a cultural legacy. Modern-day creative people, historians, academics, and citizens of all interests, can recreate and build on the legacy they left us.
Three years ago on this day, millions of pages of archival documents, whose authors had died before 1949, became public domain in Canada. This was the result of long-overdue amendments to the Copyright Act in 1998, which ended the perpetual copyright in unpublished “works.”
Unfortunately, there will not be another archival Public Domain Day for archivists, historians, genealogists, and others, to celebrate in Canada until January 1, 2049. This is because the short-sighted 1998 amendments to the Copyright Act also provided that the “works”, including historical documents, by “authors” who died between 1949 and 1998 inclusive, would have a copyright term fixed neither to the life of the author nor the creation of the work, but to the coming-into-force of the amendment. Those unpublished literary works – the raw material of history – whose authors died between 1949 and 1998, will not be public domain for nearly another half- century. This, even though the published material by those same people will continue to come into the public domain. In fact, starting in 2020, the archival public domain in the United States will overtake that of Canada in size: the American public domain for unpublished works is growing every year, while that in Canada is frozen for nearly half a century.
Take these examples: Billy Bishop’s “Winged warfare : hunting the Huns in the air”; Ernest Bilodeau’s “Autour du lac Saint-Jean”; C.A. Chant’s “Our wonderful universe”; the Earl of Bessborough’s “A week on the Jupiter River, Anticosti Island”; Maurice Lalonde’s “Notes historiques sur Mont-Laurier, Nominingue et Kiamika”; and Mina Benson Hubbard’s “A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador” are all in the public domain in Canada as of this morning.
Yet a March 15, 1939 letter from Billy Bishop to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King; the papers of Ernest Bilodeau; C.A. Chant’s astronomical notebooks; Lord Bessborough’s letters and documents pertaining to his tenure as Governor-General of Canada; Maurice Lalonde’s political correspondence; and Mina Benson Hubbard’s exploration diaries; will all be “protected” from unfettered use by Canadians for another 42 years.
Canadian Heritage has, it would seem, quietly shelved its “long-term goal” of “clarification and simplification of the Act”. But if they are ever back in the market for something to clarify and simplify, this nonsensical distinction between published and unpublished works is one of the best places to start.
And while the public domain in published works is effectively frozen in the United States for another twelve years, the unpublished works by the “1936 class” of authors are public domain today in that country. By 2027, the unpublished works of those who died in 1956, noted above, will be public domain in the United States, even though they will still be “protected” by copyright in Canada for another 22 years. It will then be easier, from a legal point of view, to make use of documents on Canadian history in another country!
Even more sadly, in the United Kingdom, where millions of pages of archival documents on Canada and other former British possessions are held, not one will be public domain, no matter how old it is or when its author (if known) died, until January 1, 2039.
However, we are here to celebrate these modest gains for the public domain Let’s celebrate the rollover of the new year, and the opportunity for cultural renewal and intellectual exploration, in all fields of human activity and interest, which the public domain offers us.
Short live copyright! Long live the public domain! Happy Public Domain Day, 2007!