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Read a classic without guilt

January 3, 2019

In 1998, Congress passed the so-called “Mickey Mouse Protection act,” which extended Disney’s copyright protection of the first Disney film featuring Mickey Mouse (“Steamboat Willie”) to the year 2024.

The law also reset the copyright term for all literary works published from 1923 to 1977 — lengthening it from 75 years to 95 years after publication — essentially freezing their protected status for twenty years.

As the New York Times notes in this article, the twenty years is up. Each January henceforth will bring a fresh crop of novels, plays, music and movies into the public domain. Already, Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” has entered the public domain, along with works by, among others, Marcel Proust, Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton, P. G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens. With each passing year, more works will be added to the public domain, including those by F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.

The end of copyright protection may adversely impact the financial fortunes of the estates of those authors, who have continued to profit from the continued copyright protections of the works, but it’s a windfall for movie producers and book publishers, who no longer have to pay royalties. And not a dime is being taken from the original authors.

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