Copyright and book availability



Rebecca Rosen writes:

Last year I wrote about some very interesting research being done by Paul J. Heald at the University of Illinois, based on software that crawled Amazon for a random selection of books. At the time, his results were only preliminary, but they were nevertheless startling: There were as many books available from the 1910s as there were from the 2000s. The number of books from the 1850s was double the number available from the 1950s. Why? protections (which cover titles published in 1923 and after) had squashed the market for books from the middle of the 20th century, keeping those titles off shelves and out of the hands of the reading public.

Heald has now finalized his research and the picture, though more detailed, is largely the same: “Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availability,” Heald writes. “Shortly after works are created and proprietized, they tend to disappear from public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when they fall into the public domain and lose their owners.”

This shows the importance of getting the balance right with copyright. Imagine if books never ever entered the public domain?

Absolutely books should be subject to copyright for a significant period of time, to allow the author to benefit from them.

But the current lengths of copyright are life plus 50 years in NZ and life plus 70 years in the United States. Both are far too long.

I’m tempted to say that copyright should expire upon the death of the author. However people might start shooting authors in order to get their books for free 🙂

I think it is fair to say the the family of an author shouldn’t suddenly have their income disappear, the moment the author dies. But ridiculous to have to wait 50 to 70 years for a book to go public domain. I would think 20 years is about right – long enough for any young children to be supported as they become adults, if say their author parent died suddenly.

What do readers think should be the term of copyright? Comment below and/or vote in the sidebar poll.

Comments (35)

Login to comment or vote