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public domain day -- in Canada

Wallace McLean sent the following:

Today, January 1, 2004, every unpublished document whose author had died on or before December 31, 1948, has passed from copyright into the public domain in Canada.

As of today, millions of pages of archival heritage, in hundreds of
archival institutions, have become the common property of all Canadians.

You are free to make use of this heritage in any way you want, by
publishing, digitizing, compiling, translating, adapting, dramatizing, or
treating the material in any other way. It's yours to enjoy and share with
whomever, whenever, in whatever way you want.

Also today, the published works of people who had the good sense to die in
1953 have become public domain in Canada and any other country which
retains the life+50 rule for copyright term. These people include Polish
poet Julian Tuwim, British mathematician Alan Turing, Dutch children's
author Hugo Pilon, Russian author and Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin, Soviet
dictator Joseph Stalin, metaphyisical author Baird Spalding, Norwegian
novelist and Nobel laureat Knut Hamsun, playwright and Nobel laureate
Eugene O'Neill (1953 was a bad year for Nobel laureates!), Irish poet and
Yeats' one-time lover Maud Gonne, Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas
(bad year for poets!), country music singer-songwriter Hank Williams,
French author Hilaire Belloc, American historian J.G. Randall, Russian
composer Sergei Prokofiev (bad year for Russians!), founder of Saudi
Arabia Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, Maria Montessori of school fame, and many more.

Happy Public Domain Day!

Here in America, we'll celebrate our next public domain day in, um, 15 years.

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Lawrence Lessig has an interesting post about public domain day in Canada. On January 1, a host of works created before 1948 passed into the public domain in Canada... [Read More]

Comments (23)

January 1, 2004 5:54 PM Joseph Pietro Riolo:

Don't forget that, in the land of the U.S., the unpublished
works of authors that died during the year of 1933 also
entered the public domain today on January 1, 2004 (life
plus 70 years). (The unpublished works of authors
that died before the year of 1933 entered the public
domain last year on January 1, 2003.)

Let's find them and welcome them back to the public domain
from where they were born.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this
comment in the public domain.

Quite interesting. I would have thought that, given NAFTA and the Berne Convention, Canada would have mirrored the copyright and patent practices of the United States.

And this in light of the current pharmaceutical dilemna is especially intriguing. It is becoming increasingly obvious that corporate protection mechanisms in the United States are making a mockery of our foreign policy and draconian intellectual property assertions seem laughable to the international community.

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned (ala Gutenberg) disruptive technology to shake things up a bit. :)


No, Joseph. The life+70 rule only applies in the United States to copyrights issued to individuals since 1976; any copyright older than that has a term of 95 years.

Prof. Lessig is right: Assuming no change to current law, nothing will enter the public domain in the United States until 2018.

(Except for your posts, of course! And anything else that is explicitly placed in the public domain by its author.)

"Assuming no change to current law..." is a rather big assumption, isn't it? Why not tell it like it is? Assuming present trends continue, the US will *never* celebrate another public domain day.

What exactly is meant by "every unpublished document"? Does this mean that only documents that were not published by the deceased author will enter the public domain? What about documents that were published? If this is the case then how can one prove that something was not published?

An interested Canadian.

January 2, 2004 1:53 AM Joseph Pietro Riolo:

In response to Evan's comment, see Section 303
in the U.S. copyright law (Title 17). Third chapter
can be found at:


This is one small area that was overlooked by

In response to Peter Lount's comment, if any
unpublished work is published before it enters
the public domain, its copyright can't expire
anytime before 12:00am on January 1, 2048.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this
comment in the public domain.

January 2, 2004 6:58 AM Josh Cogliati:

�Assuming no change to current law�� is a rather big assumption, isn�t it? Why not tell it like it is? Assuming present trends continue, the US will *never* celebrate another public domain day.

Actually, I somewhat doubt that in 15 years, the copyright holders will have the power to retroactivily extend copyright terms again. More and more people will continue to bump into copyright restrictions as things like the internet become more pervasive. I am guessing, that if they tried to extend copyright terms tomorrow there would be a far harder time to do so. I am guessing by 2015 almost everyone will have some idea of the impact of long copyrights.

On a sub note, to Lessig, by saying that the next public domain day is in 15 years are you saying that there is no hope for passing the Public Domain Enhancement act (H.R.2601)?

Re "no hope" -- no way! I mean without changes to the law. And there are lots, including 2601, in the works.

Quite interesting. I would have thought that, given NAFTA and the Berne Convention, Canada would have mirrored the copyright and patent practices of the United States.

Canada's copyright and patent practices generally mirror those of the majority of the world, i.e. accepted practice.

quite interesting.in india in some cases the state acquires the rights from copyright holder and puts the works in the public domain.in tamil, my mother tongue due to this many authors works which otherwise would not be in public domain are in public domain because of this policy which is known as nationalisation.for example works of pudumaipithan the poineering short story writer entered the public domain in 2002 although as per copyrights act the copyrights would expire in 2008 only.one is able to get cheap and well produced works of many writers
because of this.similarly the expiry of copyright over works of rabindra nath tagore, who won nobel prize, saw many publishers bringing out beautifully produced books at affordable prices.the copyright holder was the university he founded.

January 3, 2004 9:04 AM Dick Thompson:

Hillaire Belloc a French author! Shame!

re: What exactly is meant by �every unpublished document�?

In most cases, the type of work involved is either diaries or private letters.

This sort of question is exactly why the Canadian Copyright Act is better off without the changes that were proposed. As it stands - and continues to stand - simply knowing the author of the work gives you enough information to determine when a work will enter the public domain. The original changes would have added a 'publish+20'; however, this proved to contentious, and the 2003 Dec 31 deadine was replaced by a 2006 Dec 31 deadline. But - the legislation was only passed by the House, not the Senate, and never received royal assent. When Parliament was prorogued, all pending legislation died - including the changes. So - when 2003 Dec 31 went by, the last short transition period expired. Authors now have 'life+50' for both published and unpublished works. The only remaining transition is for authors who died between 1948 and 1998, whose unpublished works will remain in copyright until 2048.

Previously (before the 1998 re-work) unpublished works had perpetual copyright. However, this had to potential to become a problem, since a strict application of this would require permission from heirs before publishing anything ever written but not published. Even ancient clay tablets of private writings would not be in the public domain, even though there was no chance of finding verifiable copyright owners.

The solution to nurture cultural growth in the U.S. seems to be the promotion of cigarette smoking, drunken driving, environmental pollution and any other risk factors that will shorten the lifespan of Americans. Die sooner so cultural works enter the public domain faster. Only politicians could arrive at such a solution. It will be a short, but sweet existence.

Just a thought but wouldn't one way of bringing more works into the public domain be to a) require owners and their heirs to re-register copyright from, say, twenty years after a work's creation, b) require a relatively small fee for this registration, but a fee which increases significantly over time.

The vast majority of copyrighted material - from Britany Spears lyrics to David Letterman's December 5, 1994 "Top Ten List" have purely academic value twenty years on and the majority of the copyright owners would let the copyrights lapse if a fee of, say $500.00 was required to extend beyond 20 years. At the same time, a book like 1984, would be well worth protecting for simply because the ongoing sales would justify even escalating fees.

Presumably protecting a franchise character like Mickey would be worth several million and Pluto would enter the public domain.

Rad, get to see all there private notes, its like a window into the passed.

"What about documents that were published?" For those people who died in 1948 or earlier, published works (of sole authorship) have already entered the public domain in Canada by operation of the life+50 rule, and are now treated the same whether they are published or unpublished. So are works of those who died after 1998. However, works of those in the middle (1949 to 1998) are grotesquely anamolous... They are under copyright until 2049, NO MATTER WHEN THE AUTHOR DIED. So, for example, the published works of Prime Minister WLMKing are already in the public domain (he died in 1950), but any unpublished letters and other archival material are still under copyright ownership (by whom, I have no idea) until 2049!

the "bad year for Russians" about Sergei Prokofiev (one of my favorite composers, btw) missed an important detail:

He died not only the same year as Josef Stalin, but the same day. That was somewhat significant. Prokofiev had earlier defected to the west, seeking creative freedom, later returning to the then Soviet Union on the promise that he would be granted the artistic freedom he cherished. He never got it. He might have seen what he desired, had he outlived Stalin. That he died the same day is somewhat crushing.


January 6, 2004 7:01 AM Josh Cogliati:

Jay Currie, there is a law that is trying to be passed to require a psuedo reregistration. It is the Public Domain Enhancement act and it is house bill H.R.2601.

See: Eldred Act page (Yes, it hasn't been update for about 4 months) and Bill Information on Thomas

quick international copyright question: can i reproduce material in canada that is NOT in the public domain if i only sell it in the US where it IS in the pd?

I am a Small Press Publisher and was planning on reprinting something by Virginia Woolf. Only a small portion of The Waves, and have had no luck finding the copyright owner of her works. I assume they are in British domain but don't know the Public Domain of that country, is it the same 75 years? If I am doing something totally different with a literary work and not the whole piece, what are the rules on that?

...can i reproduce material in canada that is NOT in the public domain if i only sell it in the US where it IS in the pd....
I am going to go with - what is yes - Alex.

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