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The Hole in Our Collective Memory (Copyright) 
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Post The Hole in Our Collective Memory (Copyright)

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Mon Aug 05, 2013 12:58 pm
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WNYC and NPR do a podcast called that I enjoy. They did a whole program on copyright that was very informative. One of the commentators said that he wasn't sure how copyright could incentivize to produce more creative output someone who's been dead for many years. There's apparently a massive number of published works ("") that are technically still under copyright but nobody knows who owns the rights. On The Media also talked about the Warner/Chappell's claimed copyright on the song Happy Birthday To You. A documentary film is in the works.

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Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:53 am
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I have had recent experince with the "orphaned book" problem. I started a small effort to publish in ebook format some of the books I remembered fondly from my younger years that appeared to be long out of print, some never reprinted since their initial printing in the 1950's (). Mostly these were from the Winston Science Fiction series, but some other titles, too. A few had fallen into public domain so I could publish them with no issue. But most had had their copyrights renewed after the law changed in 1978. Any book published after 1963 was grandfathered by the 1978 law and did not have to be renewed. So, I have been trying to find the copyright holders to make arrangements to publish the works. This has proven to be very difficult. For many of the authors, there is no trace of who currently holds the copyright. I have spent many hours of research trying to find them. Unintentionly, I have become a detective tracking missing persons. So far, I have managed to find a few but I've had more failures. For instance, Carroll Capps, who wrote as C. C. MacApp, apparently was unmarried and childless. I have been unable to find any clue as to who currently holds the copyright on his works. Other authors who I have yet to trace are Philip Latham (Robert S. Richardson) and Bryce Walton. Even the children of these authors may be in their sixties or older and already deceased.

So the graph showing the dip in publication from those years makes perfect sense to me. Even if someone wants to publish the books, it is impossible under current copyright law.

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Mon Aug 12, 2013 6:59 am
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Orphan copyrights are perhaps the ONLY valid problem with current copyright law. I disagree with nearly every other argument, as they all seem to fall into a "right to buy" fallacy. That is, Author X has no right to let a work fall out of availability if some schmo wants to buy it.

No such right exists, but if you worded it with a little bit of convolution you'd probably have 90% of netizens say it does.


Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:08 am
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Jim, I don't disagree with that. If the author or his estate simply is not interested in publishing, that's their call. It seems to be the case with some of the better known authors. Lester del Rey wrote a large percentage of the Winston series under various pen names. He is a well enough known writer that an agent is in charge of his body of work and no doubt is shopping it for the best price. In the mean time, his work is not available but that's a decision on someone's part. But the lesser known writers, like those I mentioned, have just disappeared as far as finding someone to own their work. Digital publishing is easy enough that, in theory, every work could be in "print" but the reality is that many will be unavailable until they go into the public domain decades from now.

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Mon Aug 12, 2013 9:56 am
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Devil's advocate speaking:

The whole purpose of copyright is to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". How does keeping stuff out of print square with that? (ignoring those books which are so bad that the world would have been better off if they had never been written . . . .)


Mon Aug 12, 2013 11:56 am
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BH, what you're arguing are orphans - which I concede as the one problem.

Bill M., if a writer or publisher is choosing to keep a work out of print, it's their business. Not having a way to "force" a work to sale is not a valid problem, IMHO.


Mon Aug 12, 2013 12:48 pm
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Right. I have an idea for a solution to the orphan book problem, which is to set up an escrow account for the untraceable copyright holder into which royalties would be deposited, maybe managed by one of the major author organizations. I doubt it's legal under the current law, though.

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Mon Aug 12, 2013 1:37 pm
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Tue Aug 13, 2013 11:08 am
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There's no gray area at all. The holder of the copyright has the absolute right to decide the fate of a creative work, and it's their business why. Any argument at all against that is simply narcissism.

I've known authors who decided they didn't like a particular work and no longer wanted it to represent their art.

Publishers and film/TV right holders sometimes hold back a work for a period of years to rest it until demand begins to pick up again. So it's not available the day John Smith decides and demands he must read/see something.

So freaking what?

This sense of universal entitlement that runs so rampant these days is annoying and delusional.

Got fixated over a 60 year old book that was likely of middlin' quality to begin with? Get over it. There are more alternatives that ARE available that you CAN spend your time on than the hours available to do so in the rest of your lifetime. Find one of those and like it.


Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:02 pm
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