Thoughts and other Miscellany

Copyright laws

Someone kindly commented on a recent  post that I should read Gone with the Wind, and that that would cure my reading ills.


Thinking “that’s a pretty old book, I wonder if there’s a free ebook version of it now” I do a spot of Googling. And discover that it is out of copyright in Australia, but not in the USA and EU (of which, for now, the UK is a part).

How weird is that?

It gets weirder. This UPenn site gives a handy overview; in short, lots of countries operate “life + 70” i.e. the item enters the public domain 70 years after the author died. Margaret Mitchell died in 1949, so we can expect to see free ebook copies of GWTW in 2019. Some countries operate “life + X” where X is not 70; X is at least 25 in keeping with the Universal Copyright Convention except in a few countries where copyright is basically non-existent.

However, Australia changed from “life + 50” to “life + 70” in 2005 and didn’t make it retrospective (a wise choice in my opinion – how on earth would you administer that?!). So GWTW went into the public domain there in 1999 (MM’s year of death + 50), and they didn’t try to get it back in 2005.

A little literary legal quirk for you! The UPenn site is very readable and interesting – I would definitely recommend a quick read.

(and if you’re wondering, I resisted temptation for now, but I might download it when I’m in Australia in December as by my interpretation that would then be legal? Would I be allowed to bring it back to the UK? So unclear!)


2 thoughts on “Copyright laws”

  1. I read somewhere that the Mitchell Estate has been permitting sequels to Gone with the Wind (Scarlett, Rhett Butler’s People, Ruth’s Journey) because that extends the copyright on the original novel. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’d be surprised if it went into the public domain here in 2019 (I’m in the US).

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