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Re: Copyright, Patent Expirations [Was: Re: GNU License and Computer Break Ins]

By doing a little research this is what the U.K. Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 says about U.K. "crown copyright" (whether these provisions have amended I am not sure):

Crown copyright.


(1)Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties?

(a)the work qualifies for copyright protection notwithstanding section 153(1) (ordinary requirement as to qualification for copyright protection), and

(b)Her Majesty is the first owner of any copyright in the work.

(2)Copyright in such a work is referred to in this Part as ?Crown copyright?, notwithstanding that it may be, or have been, assigned to another person.

(3)Crown copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work continues to subsist?

(a)until the end of the period of 125 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, or

(b)if the work is published commercially before the end of the period of 75 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was made, until the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first so published.

There is a special carve-out for Parliamentary copyright which has different but not perpetual copyright term.

I believe statement about government works in the U.S. isn't so absolute. U.S. federal government works are in the public domain but there is no express provision about works of other governmental institutions e.g. state governments. See the U.S. copyright statute as follows:

§ 105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government,but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment,bequest,or otherwise.

Note also that some works of or for the U.S. government may not necessarily be in the public domain if the government received that copyright by assignment, bequest or otherwise.

And, as for Brian's comment, I would note that U.S. copyrights are expiring everyday. That said, I see his concern and agree there has to be some limit on copyright term extensions (in the U.S. and worldwide). Otherwise, in the U.S. context, the "limited times" wording of the U.S. Constitution becomes meaningless. The only effective way I think something can be done is to educate the public on the importance of public domain works and to move public opinion so that legislators don't enact such laws or put limits on such laws (e.g. no retroactive effect). Term extensions have occurred throughout history and a U.S. court ruling that the most recent extension violates some law could put U.S. copyright (and perhaps worldwide copyright) into jeopardy (not that some or perhaps many would be upset about that prospect). Moreover, enacting some law today to prevent future copyright term extensions won't help when some later legislature repeals the law. Thus, the need to get the public on-side now and in the future.

From: Brian Ristuccia <brian@ristuccia.com>
To: Mike Bilow <mikebw@colossus.bilow.com>
CC: Paul Serice <serice@bigfoot.com>, debian-legal Mailing List <debian-legal@lists.debian.org> Subject: Copyright, Patent Expirations [Was: Re: GNU License and Computer Break Ins]
Date: Sun, 21 May 2000 16:03:10 -0400

On Sat, May 20, 2000 at 10:08:59PM -0400, Mike Bilow wrote:
> Some copyrights never expire.  For example, my understanding is that the
> UK "crown copyright" (a copyright owned by the government) is perpetual.
> The US follows almost exactly the opposite rule, where works by or for the
> government are in the public domain.

Industry held copyrights in the US never expire either. Every time our
oldest copyrights near expiration, congress extends the length of copyright
by another few years.

Brian Ristuccia

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