When do the Copyrights expire?

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When do the Copyrights expire?

Postby Unwin » Fri Jan 11, 2008 4:16 am

Just curious...

When do the copyrights expire? With the various editions and changes in copyright law, it's kind of confusing.
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Postby Gungnir » Fri Jan 11, 2008 4:51 am

I think the answer is - it depends on the country you live in and also the actions of the estate of the author. Some countries it's 50 years after the death of the Author, other countries it's 99 years.

The estate of the author can extend the copyright on the books and characters, I believe, which is why, for example, the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs still holds the copyright on Tarzan in the US, despite the fact that ERB died in 1950.

Also, all the names and characters from LotR are the intellectual property of Saul Zaentz's 'Tolkien Enterprises' and cannot be used in a commercial enterprise by anyone without their permission (except for the publication of the original books).

Copyright legislation is complex and the lawyers do their best to keep it that way ;)
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Postby Melilot » Fri Jan 11, 2008 7:29 am

In the UK (EU?) it is at least 70 years - certainly not a mere 50.

And of course, everything published by Christopher Tolkien is HIS copyright, so the clock will only start ticking when he dies (and let's hope that time won't come any time soon). :)


I have to admit, knowing some of the abysmal fanfiction actually published for some out-of-copyright books (jane Austen comes to a horrified mind) we can count our blessings that the copyrights won't expire for a while!
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Postby solicitr » Sat Jan 12, 2008 10:31 pm

In all countries which are signatories to the Berne convention, the term is the author's life plus 70 years. Under US law, for copyrights where the 'author' is a corporation (think Disney), the term is 100 years from the date of first publication. All books published before 1923 are automatically in the public domain.

Tolkien Enterprises (Zaentz) asserts *trademark* rights in the book titles and certain character and place names. This is not the same as copyright, which Zaentz doesn't own. The Tolkien Estate claims trademark in the name TOLKIEN and the JRRT monogram, as well as owning all the relevant copyrights (actually distributed among various Estate entities such as the JRRT Settlement Trust and the Tolkien Charitable Trust, et cetera).

There is one exception: The copyright in the poem "Bilbo's Last Song" was given by Tolkien to his longtime secretary Joy Hill.
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Postby Unwin » Sun Jan 13, 2008 5:12 pm

Thanks, everyone! So, in theory, the copyrights expire in 2043.

I'm confused by the trademark thing though. Does this mean that you can print the book but not the title of it?
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Postby solicitr » Mon Jan 14, 2008 5:31 am

No, not quite. They're just two branches of intellectual property law. Trademark covers brand names and logos and so forth- its purpose essentially is to ensure that a widget marked Acme really was made by Acme, not a Chinese knockoff factory. In Tolkbiz, the "JRRT" monogram effectively represents the Estate seal of approval- they will authorize it for some books, like John Garth's war biography, or Hammond & Scull's references. Registering "Tolkien" was a move to prevent publication of titles like "A Tolkien X" which conveys the suggestion of 'official' status. Probably in response to David Day, who has made a career out of Middle-earth without permission nor payment.

Zaentz stretches things to the absolute limit- he after all is the guy who sued John Fogerty for sounding too much like himself!
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Postby Galin » Wed Jan 23, 2008 9:23 am

If the Tolkien Estate can extend copyright (noting Gungnir regarding Tarzan above), how long can it be extended? meaning how long is the limit, and how many times can these rights be extended?
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Postby solicitr » Wed Jan 23, 2008 10:02 am

It's not really extended- except by Act of Congress.

Copyright renewal is a legal requirement for enjoying the full copyright term: the initial term is 28 years from publication; at the end of that time the author or his heirs may (and bloody well should) renew it.
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Postby Galin » Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:12 pm

Thanks! And can it be renewed indefinitely?

Sorry to bother!
Last edited by Galin on Thu Jan 24, 2008 7:05 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby solicitr » Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:43 pm

No, not indefinitely. Currently for books published before 1978, it's 95 years from publication (US) or author's life + 70 (UK and the rest of the Berne Convention nations). For US copyright, that 95 years is actually four terms of 28 + 28 + 19 + 20, each of which is a renewal. It doesn't matter when the author actually dies.*

* (Except with regard to the interesting and rather bizarre law of copyright reclamation, under which in some cases an author's heirs can void all assignments and licences he may have made: the heirs of Superman's creators did just that).
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Postby Unwin » Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:15 pm

Thanks for all the info solicitr!

... and I thought copyright law was simple.

So how was ACE Books able to print copies of LOTR? My understanding was that they were able to do so under some kind of loophole and so were able to print even while Tolkien was alive.
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Postby solicitr » Fri Jan 25, 2008 2:40 am

Well, Ace *claimed* to have found a loophole. About 1990 another publisher tried to use the same argument and lost in court- the judge categorically ruled that The Lord of the Rings had always been copyright in the US, both editions, no gaps or loopholes.

The issue was whether too many unbound sheets for Return of the King had been imported into the US for binding by Houghton Mifflin. Although the Copyright Act of 1949 incorporated such limits, it's pretty clear that they were a matter of trade policy and never called down the 'death penalty' of voiding an otherwise valid copyright. There was also the technicality that some early US printings didn't contain a copyright notice: but such notice has never been a requirement of the law.
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Postby BrianIsSmilingAtYou » Wed Jan 30, 2008 8:52 pm

solicitr wrote:No, not indefinitely. Currently for books published before 1978, it's 95 years from publication (US) or author's life + 70 (UK and the rest of the Berne Convention nations). For US copyright, that 95 years is actually four terms of 28 + 28 + 19 + 20, each of which is a renewal. It doesn't matter when the author actually dies.*

* (Except with regard to the interesting and rather bizarre law of copyright reclamation, under which in some cases an author's heirs can void all assignments and licences he may have made: the heirs of Superman's creators did just that).


According to the US government copyright site, there is now one renewal term of 67 years after the initial 28. This does make for a total of 95 years as you note, but there is only one renewal term for 67 years, not 3 separate renewals for 28, 19 and 20 years.

(There are all kinds of exceptions based on creation dates and publishing dates, but that is the basic rule.)

http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.html

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