Last year I read the 7-volume epic novel, In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust. I was thrilled to read a new translation (the first in decades) that Penguin UK began publishing in 1995.
After reading 4 volumes, I learned that the final 3, while available in the UK, were not available here. I still managed to read them thanks to a very intense series of inter-library loans. But guess why the final 3 volumes aren’t available in the US?
In 1998 California congressman Sonny Bono, at least in part at the behest of Walt Disney Studios, worked to get a bill passed called the Copyright Term Extension Act. The details were briefly described in our Artists Rights Society reading this week, but to make a long story short the bill basically froze the public domain advancement date at 1923 for the following 20 years.
Why was this so important to Disney? Well, Steamboat Willie (the original Mickey Mouse) was about to become part of the public domain and the bill kept the character (and 3 volumes of Proust, and everything else produced since 1923) under copyright for an extra 20 years. The Technology Liberation Front produced a great graphic showing what happens every time Steamboat Willie approaches the end of copyright protection.
Mickey Mouse will be up for release again in 2023. Will Disney let it happen without a fight this time?
If copyright is a balance between copyright holders and the people, is it fair for business interests to change copyright law whenever they need to?