“Big Hy” — his handle among many loyal customers — would almost certainly be cast as Hollywood Enemy No. 1 but for a few details. He is actually Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife. And he has sent every one of his copied DVDs, almost 4,000 boxes of them to date, free to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here’s a short list of works that would have entered public domain this year had the law not been changed.
Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the authorâ€™s death. (Corporate â€œworks-for-hireâ€ 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.
A few of the works that would have been public domain: the first two Lord of the Rings books, Horton Hears a Who!, Rear Window, and Seven Samurai. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, the system is great for the descendants of popular authors and directors, but we’re going to end up with a ton of orphan works that are completely unavailable to the public.
Cornell has opened up their archive of public domain works, removing restrictions on reproduction and use of the works. On top of that, they have released more than seventy thousand works to the internet archive.