What is PD56?

PD56 is short for “Public Domain after 56 years”. It is a project to spotlight works that would have – and should have – entered the Public Domain under the copyright laws of their day, but are instead locked down by retroactive copyright extensions.

Not that long ago (the mid 1970s), U.S. copyrights had a maximum length of 56 years: a 28-year primary term, plus an optional 28-year extension.  That was before Big Media paid Congress to retroactively extend those terms, first to 75 years, then again to 95 and even 120!

There is a currently a war going on over copyright.  On one side are the corporate copyright holders (e.g. MPAA, RIAA) who want the terms to be perpetual. On the other side are the pirates, who want everything to be free.  A pox on both their houses.

PD56 is a moral position in the middle ground.  Copyright should be honored, for all the reasons the Constitution says: to promote the creation of new works by rewarding those who make them.  But it should also expire.  Extending an existing copyright serves no purpose but to enrich the holder, at the expense of our public culture.  So here’s what needs to happen: let copyrights expire when they were originally going to expire.  Roll back the retroactive extensions and give us back a 56-year copyright.  Then maybe the public will be more sympathetic to creators’ legitimate complaints about piracy of the new things they’re producing.

Copyright is a good thing.  When implemented like the framers of the US Constitution intended, it promoted the development of new creative works by temporarily giving the creators exclusive rights to them, enabling them to make a living selling copies and licensing the work for adaptation if they wish.  But current copyright terms are too much, instead restricting the public from using these parts of their cultural heritage, and usually providing income to corporations and heirs who had no hand in creating them, and who are not “incentivized” by this income to produce any new works.

All images depicted are – as a point of legal reality – protected by copyright, but are used here under the principle of Fair Use, to identify the works being discussed and illustrate their description for the purpose of commentary about their cultural value.

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