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Happy Belated Public Domain Day!

by Hrag Vartanian on January 10, 2012

A map of countries around the world and their copyright length (via Wikipedia) (click to visit Wikipedia and larger map)

The advantage of the New Year is that new and wonderful things are liberated enter the public domain. The Art and Artifice blog has posted a new list of artists whose works as of January 1, 2012 can be used, republished, translated or transformed till your heart’s content!

Why 2012? You ask. Well, in countries which operate a “life plus seventy years” term for copyright [they are colored red in the map above] dictate that any author, composer, artist or creator who died in 1941 is now copyright free.

Who are we talking about? In terms of visual artists that means: Robert Delaunay, El Lissitzky, Amrita Sher-Gil (who is known as “India’s Frida Kahlo”), Alexej von Jawlensky, Mario Rutelli, Seiki Kayamori, Maximilien Luce and many others.

The 1709 Blog has a list of writers whose work falls under the public domain this year, including such notables as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Isaak Babel.

But wait, not so fast. Did I mention that this doesn’t apply to the United States, where no work will enter the public domain until at the very least 2019? As the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University explains:

… in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019. And wherever in the world you live, you will likely have to wait a very long time for anything to reach the public domain. When the first copyright law was written in the United States, copyright lasted 14 years, renewable for another 14 years if the author wished. Jefferson or Madison could look at the books written by their contemporaries and confidently expect them to be in the public domain within a decade or two. Now? In the United States, as in most of the world, copyright lasts for the author’s lifetime, plus another 70 years. And we’ve changed the law so that every creative work is automatically copyrighted, even if the author does nothing.

On the up side, if you live in Canada, China, South Africa, Syria, Uruguay and dozens of other countries the artists we mentioned entered the public domain 20 years ago. Then again, people in Mexico will have to wait another 30 years for all this to happen. And fun fact … did you know Laos and Libya have no copyright at all?

So, Happy Belated Public Domain Day people!

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