January 1st was Public Domain day, the day that works which have reached the end of their copyrighted life get released into the public domain. Though again, due to copyright law changes in 1978 mean that no US copyrighted works will enter the public domain until 2019.
Under the previous legislation (pre-1978) copyright was a maximum o 56 years, the following titles would now be under the public domain: - J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King - C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew - Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita - Walt Disney Studio's Lady and the Tramp - The musical Guys and Dolls (and many more)
I think the part at the bottom is the most important. Because all of those "famous" works listed, they are still under copyright but at least we still have access to them because they are still commercially successful. It is the underside of the iceberg -- all of the thousands of works that should be in the public domain that aren't, and are no longer commercial viable -- that are in danger of being lost forever. WHICH IS THE WHOLE POINT of public domain -- to preserve old works for the good of society.
Indeed. I think that's an excellent point. While I agree that automatic copyright (out-out) is a good thing for protecting any content producer (from artist to software programmer) it does make a real mess when it comes to "orphaned works".
I don't think automatic copyright is a good thing, especially not any more. A vast number of works -- I would imagine (due to the Internet) an order of magnitude more than the alternative -- are created with no intention of applying any legal copy prevention mechanism. We have to remember that even the smallest things (tweets, blog posts, YouTube videos, YouTube video comments, blog comments in general, school and university projects, random web drawings, small pieces of software, etc) are automatically copyrighted. Most of these works, the author would happily have their work re-used, remixed etc (presumably with proper attribution), which is why something like CC-BY would be a much better default license than Copyright.
It is so disheartening to want to use something that some artist created, and realise that they probably had no intention of restricting your use, but because of Copyright law, you legally cannot use it without their permission, which may be hard to obtain.
Lawrence Lessig proposed an even less radical system, whereby copyright would be automatic for, say, 5-10 years, after which time it would have to be officially registered for a small administration fee (say, $5-$10) for another 5-10 year period. This would be an excellent improvement, because it would mean that any work more than 10 years old had crystal clear copyright status: you look it up in an online database and if it isn't there, it's public domain. For major content producers, this would mean a small administrative overhead and nothing they can't afford. But they blocked this proposal -- Lessig couldn't understand why they would have an issue with a system that lets them keep their insane copyright terms but frees up other content that they did not create. His theory was that they didn't want there to be other content that they did not create -- that they wanted to make sure all work was copyrighted forever, not just their work, because otherwise their copyrighted works would be inferior to the other free works of society.