Public Domain

Once the duration of a copyright term has expired, the work enters the Public Domain. This means no permission need be sought to use the work, as it has become common property by law. Copyright had to be registered under U.S. Law up until 1963. If it was not registered, or renewed, it became Public Domain.

If a work is still within copyright, but the copyright owner cannot be identified, this is classed as an ‘Orphan Work’. This issue has arisen due to the automatic nature of copyright. (Patry 2009 pp.76-78). Since copyright can last up to 120 years in the U.S. it is very easy for the copyright holder to be missing. While these works may have little commercial value in and of them selves, the provision of copyright gives the owner a case if they are used – this uncertainty can scare potential users away.

In both U.S. (Peters 2008) and U.K. (Gowers & Great Britain. 2006 p.4) Law, recommendations have been put forward to free up ‘Orphan’ works if reasonable attempts have been made and failed to identify the copyright holder. This would permit work to be used, transformed and adapted without worry to the user (Boyle 2008 p.238).

Considering the legal provision granted in U.K. and U.S. law for promotion and facilitation of education, Fair Use and Fair Dealing seem somewhat limited. If a copyright holder claims infringement, it is up to the defendant to prove fair use. The durations of copyright have been extended several times over the past 60 years further limiting access to works that could have been freely available. Both of these limitations serve only to restrict perceived and actual exemptions to copyright.

It would seem that, while copyright and copyright law encourages adding to public knowledge the application of the law by copyright industries aims to limit this use as much as possible. This seems to favour the exploitation model of copyright. Anti-circumvention laws and the prevalence of exploiting the property of copyright are directly at odds with being able to freely access original expressions.

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