I am not sure where I should post this, or if I should even post this at all. This is only my second time posting in these forums, so please, have patience. I have a feeling this may have come up already, but I didn't get many results when I searched for it. The issue concerns the idea of public domain and if it will ever exist again.
Works that go into public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, been forfeited, or are inapplicable (definition stolen from Wikipedia, therefore guaranteed to be 100% accurate). This means that the work is completely available to public use. They can be re-printed, sold, adapted, or made into some crappy techno remix. This is why it's free to download Shakespeare, The Bible, and Dracula and so on. (It's also why book stores love selling them, pure profit)
The first ever public domain law was the Statute of Anne. Before the printing press, an author would write a book, and have the only copy available. He would hire scribes to reprint them, and give them a small fee. Once the printing press came around, press shops started taking one copy of the book, reprinting it hundreds of times and get all of the profit, leading to a bunch of poor authors. That lead the Parliament of Great Britain to come up with the first copyright law. It's boring to read, so here's the idea. After creating something, it is yours for 14 years. You get to decide who prints it, sells it, and everything else. After that, it's open season. The idea is, you get to live off your wealth from that one work for a while, but not your entire life.
The United States based their own public domain law on those redcoat bastards' Statute of Anne. Their time limit was extended to 28 years in 1831. In 1909 an act was passed which allowed for works to be copyrighted for a period of 28 years from the date of publication and then the copyrighted work could be renewed once for a second term of equal value. So now we're at 56 years in total. Now at this point it seems to me like you could pretty much put out a winner early on in your life, and coast on that until you die. (Keep in mind, forty-year-olds dropped like flies back then) That seems wrong to me, but hey, I probably wouldn't mind if I were in the author's shoes.
Then, in 1998, another thing happened. Disney came to congress asking for that magic number to be extended yet again. Why would they do that? Because on November 28, 1928, Steamboat Willie made his first appearance, now better known as Mickey Mouse, meaning that he would go into public domain five years later. His pals Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck would follow suit within a few years. Now, congress may or may not have been persuaded by the generous donation of $6.3 million in 1997-98 (sounds like chump change after this election), but I'm not going to speculate. In 1998, congress extended the term of protection by 20 years for works copyrighted after January 1, 1923. Works copyrighted by individuals since 1978 got “life plus 70” rather than the existing “life plus 50”. Works made by or for corporations (referred to as “works made for hire”) got 95 years. Works copyrighted before 1978 were shielded for 95 years, regardless of how they were produced. Basically, Mickey Mouse got another 20 years.
Guess who would be launched into public domain very soon if it weren't for this most recent extension. I'll give you a hint he's "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound" Yup, anyone could have had their way with Superman (poor choice of words?) in June of 2013.
Not only have the public domain laws become extraordinarily confusing, but it is very frustrating to see what Disney is doing. Let's take a closer look. Disney made Mickey Mouse and the gang. After that, they took Cinderella, Tarzan, Aladdin, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, and the list goes on. They used these ideas, transformed them and made a boat load of money off of them. Now, they are attempting to ensure that no one will ever be able to do this with Mickey Mouse and the gang, Superman, and a bunch of other loved characters. I find this quite sickening and completely hypocritical. I think it is necessary to have these copyrights expire. Dracula is the most used character in literature followed by Tarzan and Aladdin. Now they have gone on and bought Marvel and Star Wars to try and coast on those accomplishments as well. A giant company like Disney should not be able to put it into cruise control and coast on some accomplishments forever. Yes, they have created new ideas since then, but will they ever allow those to be used by the public? Doubtful.
The point of the law was this, you get to use your work for a while, maybe even your whole life, but then you have to let it go, it's not yours forever. Maybe that's just how art should work, you use it then it belongs to all of us. I quite like that idea. Superman is supposed to be ours now. That was the deal. There is a bunch of fan fiction out there that I think people would really love to read. I think Mickey Mouse, Superman and a bunch of other old characters could use a fresh look from someone with some new ideas. Ya, you would have a bunch of awful interpretations, but that's all part of the fun. It makes you appreciate the original and any new versions that you really like.
Once again, I don't know if this is the right place for this, but I've seen the fan fiction on this site. I know there are a lot of creative minds out there with their own journeys and adversaries for their favorite heroes, and I think we all want to see them too. Feel free to discuss the issue.
Thanks for reading.