What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011?
Under the law that existed until 1978 . . . Works from 1954
(Images from Wikimedia Commons)
Waiting for . . . Waiting for Godot and Lord of the Flies, The Doors of Perception, Rear Window, Seven Samurai, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the first issues of Sports Illustrated, Horton Hears a Who! . . . . 
Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. (Corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years.) But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years). Under those laws, works published in 1954 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2011.
What might you be able to read or print online, quote as much as you want, or translate, republish or make a play or a movie from? How about William Golding’s Lord of the Flies? Golding first published Lord of the Flies in 1954. If we were still under the copyright laws that were in effect until 1978, Lord of the Flies would be entering the public domain on January 1, 2011 (even assuming that Golding or his publisher had renewed the copyright). Under current copyright law, we’ll have to wait until 2050. This is because the copyright term for works published between 1950 and 1963 was extended to 95 years from the date of publication, so long as the works were published with a copyright notice and the term renewed (which is generally the case with famous works such as this). All of these works from 1954 will enter the public domain in 2050.
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