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When will Tolkien's works become in the public domain?


Feb 24 2007, 4:32am

Post #1 of 9 (785 views)
When will Tolkien's works become in the public domain? Can't Post

Does the Tolkien estate own the work's of Tolkien in perpetuity? Any legal eagles out there know! I'm 54 and know it will probably not be in my lifetime! Are any works of 19th and 20th century still not in the public domain?--like Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe--how about foreign copyrights? Like works of Tolstoy or Proust--any TORsibs know--guess I could look it up on the net but I want this to be the launch pad for discussion--I really don't know! Anyone can explain to me the "fair use" doctrine of copyrighted works?

Finding Frodo
Tol Eressea

Feb 24 2007, 4:59am

Post #2 of 9 (655 views)
I don't know how copyright law works, but [In reply to] Can't Post

Wasn't there just a little news item on the homepage that the Tolkien Estate was taking legal action against peole that uploaded the text of Tolkien's books to the internet?

Where's Frodo?


Feb 24 2007, 5:24am

Post #3 of 9 (642 views)
It all depends. [In reply to] Can't Post

Copyrights can be extended by the passing of new copyright laws, so it's impossible to say for certain when current copyrights will expire. Also, different countries have different laws, so when the Tolkien copyrights expire depends on where you are. It's possible they could all be given extensions. However, a good introduction to copyright issues is this FAQ from Gutenberg.org, a great site for free (public domain) e-books. As to "fair use", that's beyond my ken, but I'm sure someone else will step up to answer.

"The grand scheme of God is inscrutable; the object of life is virtue, not pleasure; and obedience, not liberty, is the means of its attainment." ~Russell Kirk


Feb 24 2007, 5:32am

Post #4 of 9 (632 views)
Some links & info. [In reply to] Can't Post

Copyright law is different in every country. A very quick rule of thumb for the U.S. is that anything first published prior to 1923 is public domain. Some later works are PD too, but you need to figure it out on a case-by-case basis. This chart by Lolly Gasaway is helpful.

In other countries works usually go PD either 50 years or 70 years after the date of the author's death. But you need to check each country's laws, and to make things more confusing sometimes other countries go by U.S. law for U.S. works. Very tricksy.

As far as whether a particular use is considered "fair use," go not to copyright lawyers for counsel, for they will say both no and yes. Even the wisest cannot tell. Here's the law stating what factors are to be considered: sec. 107. But courts vary in how they apply them.

Here's the main Copyright Office website. There's a lot of good info. in the FAQ's. My favorite FAQ is "How can I copyright my sighting of Elvis?" I have no idea if that was a real question they got.

Other good links:
Creative Commons
Chilling Effects

"I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it." --Gandalf

Grey Havens

Feb 24 2007, 5:34am

Post #5 of 9 (660 views)
Here's a good summary. [In reply to] Can't Post

Copyright terms

For LOTR, this would mean 95 years after the publication date.
Of course, the next time the copyright on any Disney works are in danger of expiring, I'm sure we'll see new legisation to increase the term even further. (Well, our descendents will!)

Forum Admin / Moderator

Feb 24 2007, 6:10am

Post #6 of 9 (651 views)
Copyrights can be renewed [In reply to] Can't Post

and I believe JRRT's copyright was renewed. I don't think we'll see them expire in our lifetime.

Each cloak was fastened about the neck with a brooch like a green leaf veined with silver.
`Are these magic cloaks?' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.
`I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves.

NARF since 1974.
Balin Bows

Grey Havens

Feb 24 2007, 8:27am

Post #7 of 9 (636 views)
That's what the 95 years is based on. [In reply to] Can't Post

If the copyright was renewed, it will expire 95 years after the publication date. I'm assuming it was. Copyright cannot be renewed indefinitely (at least not under current US law).

Luthien Rising

Feb 24 2007, 2:26pm

Post #8 of 9 (618 views)
U.S. vs. elsewhere [In reply to] Can't Post

That's within the U.S., though. There is no provision for copyright renewal in Canada (at least not according to my copyright textbook - lord only knows what it's the upcoming legislation, but apparently we're getting an election instead anyways), which means that end-of-the-year-of-death + 50 will stand here (so, 2024). In practice, the longest major-country times will end up controlling publication on any scale, but certainly these other dates should come to apply for more local uses of quotation, derivative works, etc. (vs. internationally distributed publications, e.g., new editions, movies).

Lúthien Rising
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. / We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Luthien Rising

Feb 24 2007, 2:34pm

Post #9 of 9 (682 views)
fair use (in the U.S.) [In reply to] Can't Post

"Fair use" is a U.S. provision. It permits use of a portion of a work, in particular circumstances and for particular purposes. This is the U.S. government's fact sheet on fair use - http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html - which I can quote because U.S. government works are all in the public domain ;-)

The four factors of fair use:
"1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

These are court-case-based examples of fair use:
“quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

There's also some case law supporting the idea of thumbnail images on the web, linked to originals, being fair use - and some case law against it.

In Canada, the equivalent is "fair dealing", and is both less clearly defined and narrower. It doesn't, for example, cover my teaching activities or parody (though it is my understanding that parody has actually been more widely permitted in case law here than in the U.S.). And it defines the portion that is usable not only by how much of a work is used, but also its significance within the work - so that, for example, it would be pretty much impossible to quote the chorus of a song or the full concluding section of an essay within fair use limitations. In practice, that tends to play out as holding one's breath on the quotations of key statements from one essay in another essay - and as getting permission for characters in novels to quote song lyrics. (Always throws authors for a loop, that one does.)

Lúthien Rising
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. / We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.


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