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Why does a long dead author need copyright?

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Joined: 08 May 2012
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Location: United Kingdom

PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2012 11:42 pm    Post subject: Why does a long dead author need copyright? Reply with quote

I run several local/ family history websites and I try very hard not to breach copyright which is a real problem given the nature of material on my site. When did the author die - who has the copyright now- does the person who is offering me old photos etc actually own the copyright are all daily questions.
I have copyright notices on my websites but I always say yes when asked about use of my material- perhaps I am soft.
I always wonder why a long dead author needs royalties for 70 years after his death ie J R Tolkien write Lord of the Rings in 1937 and died in 1973.
Most of the royalties for this book accrued after his death so he never saw the vast riches from film rights and sales of the book.
I had a case where a small local history book was written 30 years ago about a local boat building firm. The author has since died. The publisher/printers folded 20 years ago. Someone in Australia contacted me as details of her grandfather were in this book. Although I have a copy of the book I was unable to send her a photocopy of the page/photo as it would have breached copyright. Whose I don't know and I couldn't find out. The book will never be reprinted and will be in copyright until about 2060 and so the information in this book will be lost to the world surely not what the author would have wanted.
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PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2012 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Marshlander,
You raise an interesting issue about how long copyright should last following the author's death. Until 1989 in the UK, and it remains the case in many other countries, the term post mortem was 50 years. The argument for increasing this was that since the post mortem element was intended to benefit the author's surviving family and life expectancy was now longer, 70 years was said to be fairer. This was seen as being akin to an occupational or state pension which would be paid to the spouse (usually a widow) even after the death of a worker. Quite why a spouse was expected to live on for a further 70 years is a mystery to me.
Needless to say, many people think the current term is excessive. But the main proponents are the big movie and record companies (as was seen during the successful lobbying of the EU to extend the copyright term for recorded music from 50 to 70 years). So to date, the trend has been to keep extending the term. Incidently the very first copyright act in the world (the 1710 Statute of Anne) set the term at 14 years from the date of publication.
In theory the heirs of the author of the local history book would now be the owners of his copyright and could give permission for it to be re-published. However given the time which has elapsed since it was originally published, and the fact that the publishers and printers have since disappeared, the task of tracking down the current owner would be difficult.
On the specific matter of you providing a copy of parts of the book for your correspondent in Australia, this would be legal assuming that it was for their personal use and not commercial purposes:
29 Research and private study.
(1) Fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of research for a non-commercial purpose does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.
(1B) No acknowledgement is required in connection with fair dealing for the purposes mentioned in subsection (1) where this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise.
(1C) Fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of private study does not infringe any copyright in the work.
(2) Fair dealing with the typographical arrangement of a published edition for the purposes of research or private study does not infringe any copyright in the arrangement.
(3) Copying by a person other than the researcher or student himself is not fair dealing if—
(a) in the case of a librarian, or a person acting on behalf of a librarian, he does anything which regulations under section 40 would not permit to be done under section 38 or 39 (articles or parts of published works: restriction on multiple copies of same material), or
(b) in any other case, the person doing the copying knows or has reason to believe that it will result in copies of substantially the same material being provided to more than one person at substantially the same time and for substantially the same purpose.

Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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