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Nothing to celebrate on 'Public Domain Day' 2014

The first day of the year is also the day when published works enter the public domain after their copyrights expire. Unfortunately, Public Domain Day 2014 is not a happy one, according to the book mavens at Duke University.

“Not a single published work” is entering the public domain in 2014, Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain said on its website. “Once again, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st....In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019.”

In Canada, by contrast, works by Robert Frost, W.E.B. Du Bois, C.S. Lewis, Sylvia Plath and even Aldous Huxley entered the public domain on Jan. 1. In the U.S., the books “On the Road,” “Atlas Shrugged” and "The Cat in the Hat," the musical “West Side Story” and the song “All Shook Up” would be entering the public domain this year -- but for a 1998 law that increased copyright to 95 years or more for works published after 1923.

“The result is a copyright system that’s impossible to defend on economic or policy grounds,” Jeff John Roberts writes today on the technology website Gigaom. “While copyright itself is a good thing -- it helps artists and writers make a living -- the repeated posthumous term extensions make no sense.” Laws extending copyright “benefit the likes of the Walt Disney corporation” but “deprive everyone else of raw material for new stories and chill creativity with the threat of lawsuits,” Roberts writes.

Duke included a brief summary of major films from 2012 and 2013 that drew from works in the public domain: “Oz the Great and Powerful,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Anna Karenina,” “Coriolanus,” “Wrath of the Titans,” “Les Misérables” and “Snow White and the Huntsman. Those films drew, respectively, from the works of L. Frank Baum, classic Norse mythology, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, classic Greek mythology, Victor Hugo and the Brothers Grimm.

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