What could have been public domain

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 author’s death. (Corporate “works-for-hire” 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.