A New Year Brings New Classic Stories

I love “public domain” and so should you. It allows old stories, music, and art to be used for a variety of purposes without restrictions on or required payments for their use by the creator of the work. Don’t get me wrong, copyrights are a good thing, and I believe a creator should be able to exercise control over their creation for a reasonable period.

The inventor of a product is protected by patent laws which provide them to control their wares exclusively for  20 years. For example, patents allow a pharmaceutical company to recover their costs and generate a decent profit from their drugs without competition for two decades. After that, others can copy the formula and compete with cheaper generic drugs.

When the first US copyright law was written in 1790 a writer, composer, or artist could control their work for 28 years. After that, the work shifted into the “public domain,” allowing anyone to copy, modify, or perform the work without the permission of the creator. Gradually, under pressure from artists and publishers, that term was steadily extended to 75 years.

That term was lengthened again, to 95 years, when the Walt Disney Company realized that its copyright on Mickey Mouse would expire in the year 2000. So, they and others, encouraged US Representative, Sonny Bono, sponsor the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which many renamed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” This law meant that, for the next 20 years, nothing created after 1923 would enter the public domain. 

Twenty years later brings us to 2019, when on January 1st, thousands of books, stories, songs, and art finally became available to anyone to use in any way they want. This date is particularly auspicious for Litreading “litseners.” Now, I can share stories that have rarely been heard before from Agatha Christie (coming very soon), Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, and dozens more.

Most exciting to me is the opportunity to read you one of my mother’s and wife’s favorite novellas (one of the few books they have kept with them for decades), The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. This would have been practically impossible for me to do previously as obtaining the rights to read stories is both incredibly complex and expensive – if even possible.

For more on this subject, the New York Times published a fascinating piece on the expiration of copyrights (may be behind a paywall).

I am excited to be able to provide some unique classic stories for your listening pleasure in the year ahead.

Don McDonaldComment