November 28, 2002
Striking Down The Copyright Extension Would Dramatically Increase Available Books

Larry Lessig from his blog, has a piece about an analysis done by Jason Schultz of Fish and Richardson and Deirdre Mulligan of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. They looked at what would happen to copy protected books if the 1976 extension for copyright were struck down. The upshot? Books in print, or 4% (9,240) of all books (300,446) published between 1927 and 1956 would be affected. The rest (291,206) are not in print, and would come available to anyone. "So it seems that were the 1976 retroactive extension struck down, the most significant impact of such a decision would not be a monumental loss of contracts or corporate mergers, but rather a dramatic increase in reading." Jason Schultz, who reran the numbers here, commented that they are even better for 1927-1946. The earlier the works, it would seem, the fewer are still available in print.

They also did an analysis of movies but didn't have as good data so the results aren't as clear. However, they were similar to the book results and Schultz' hypothesis is that many more movies could be available to the public. But in the case of movies, there are archival problems that make it difficult and expensive to share old movies. The Library of Congress is having trouble saving old Oscar winning movies, so I would guess old lesser known ones would be even harder to conserve and make available to the public. It's too expensive to restore and transfer them, and then there's the issue of storage, formats, etc.

If the movies were in the public domain, however, they might be saved and archived through some enterprising personal or institutional effort, doing it out of love of cinema, and would never attempt this while the works are under copyright. Also, the longer these more obscure works are locked down, the less chance we have of finding decent copies to archive when they do come into the public domain.

Posted by Mary Hodder at November 28, 2002 08:45 AM

Here is some additional info on copyright protected movies currently available to the public (6.8%), out of a total of 37,000 movies released from 1927-46, as measured by looking at the Internet Movie Database. This analysis was done by Jason Schultz also. Obviously, if the 1976 copyright extension were struck down or removed, all of these movies, if they could be found, would be available for distribution. The question is, what is their condition? However, it seems that in the name of preservation and innovation, it would be worth making them available to the public.

Posted by: Mary Hodder on December 3, 2002 08:52 PM
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