View Poll Results: Should "Action Comics #1" have entered the public domain after 56 years?

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  • The limit for old copyrights should have stayed at 56 years.

    15 35.71%
  • Raising the limit to 75 years was okay, but they should have stopped there.

    10 23.81%
  • Raising the limit to 95 years was okay, but I hope they stop there.

    1 2.38%
  • Other (please explain!)

    16 38.10%
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  1. #1
    Incredible Member Lorendiac's Avatar
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    Default Should "Action Comics #1" have entered the public domain after 56 years?

    In 1938, when Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold their Superman creation to National Publications (later known as "DC"), the existing copyright laws of the USA said that no copyright could last for more than 56 years. You got a 28-year term of copyright protection to start with, and then, if you filled out some legal paperwork at the proper time as that 28 years was running out, you got to renew for a second 28-year term, and that was it. So as far as Siegel and Shuster knew at the time, there was no reason to think anyone would have exclusive control of "the right to publish new Superman stories" after the year 1994.

    During the 1970s, Congress changed the rules for copyright lifespans. Where "old copyrights" were concerned, the 56 years of protection could now be extended for another 19 years, bringing it to a grand total of 75. Which meant, at the time, that the original copyright on the stuff published in "Action Comics #1" was then expected to drop dead in the year 2013.

    Many years later, Congress changed the rules again, and as it now stands, the copyright on the earliest Superman stories will only run out after 95 years. Which means that material first published in 1938 is expected to enter the public domain in 2033 -- unless Congress changes the rules again before that time!

    Over the years, I've sometimes seen fans suggest that it would be a good thing if Congress, in the 1970s, had only changed the rules for "anything new that becomes copyrighted from now on," but had left the rules about "old copyrights" strictly alone! (Also, some people think Congress should not have changed the rules at all in the 1970s; not even for stuff that hadn't been created yet; but we'll ignore that for now.)

    So I finally decided to take a poll of my fellow fans. How many of you think it would be better if Congress had left the rules alone, with a strict 56-year limit for exclusive copyrights on all stuff produced before the late 1970s? This would mean that by now, Superman (and all other Golden Age comic book heroes) would be in the public domain as far as U.S. copyright law was concerned, and we'd even be starting to see that happen to early Silver Age characters. (Anything originally copyrighted in 1959, for instance, would be hitting its "expiration date" and passing into the public domain during this year; 2015!)
    Last edited by Lorendiac; 03-09-2015 at 09:57 AM.

  2. #2
    Astonishing Member The Kid's Avatar
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    It should have entered public domain when it first was supposed to. Unfortunately, in today's day and age, there's no way Disney and Warner are ever gonna let copyright laws expire
    DC, hurry up and make your own version of Marvel Unlimited!

  3. #3
    DC Enthusiast Tony's Avatar
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    As long as congress can be bought off Disney will continue to mine public domain while unlawfully extending the right to there properties.

    I wish our government wasn't so corrupt. Public domain is how culture builds on things not 1 original Disney or early DC comic creator is still alive as far as I know yet the corporations keep there iron grip grip on these properties.

    Edit basically if I had read the response I could have just said I agree with the kid.
    Last edited by Tony; 03-09-2015 at 10:23 AM.

  4. #4
    Incredible Member Lorendiac's Avatar
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    Hmmm. Thus far, we've got a whopping three votes, and they are 100 percent in favor of the idea that Congress should have allowed "old copyrights" to just quietly fade away after the original 56 years had run out. (One of those votes is mine, incidentally.)

    I wonder if anyone is actually going to argue that 95 years isn't nearly enough, and Superman ought to stay copyright-protected for, let's say, 150 years?

  5. #5
    Newbie Member Russ's Avatar
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    Edit: All good. I Googled it.
    Last edited by Russ; 03-09-2015 at 02:49 PM.

  6. #6
    Veteran Member Joe Acro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lorendiac View Post
    Hmmm. Thus far, we've got a whopping three votes, and they are 100 percent in favor of the idea that Congress should have allowed "old copyrights" to just quietly fade away after the original 56 years had run out. (One of those votes is mine, incidentally.)

    I wonder if anyone is actually going to argue that 95 years isn't nearly enough, and Superman ought to stay copyright-protected for, let's say, 150 years?
    Well, I'll stick my neck out a little. I voted for the 75 years option. I like that number. It's about the same as the life expectancy. It seems reasonable for me that someone be able to create or own an item and it not be tampered with without their consent for the rest of their life, and then their work lays dormant for a decade or two in reverence.

    By the same logic, there might come a point where 95 years might be okay, but we're definitely not there yet.

  7. #7
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Acro View Post
    Well, I'll stick my neck out a little. I voted for the 75 years option. I like that number. It's about the same as the life expectancy. It seems reasonable for me that someone be able to create or own an item and it not be tampered with without their consent for the rest of their life, and then their work lays dormant for a decade or two in reverence.

    By the same logic, there might come a point where 95 years might be okay, but we're definitely not there yet.
    Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

    It seems to me that if I create something (not work for hire of course) then I shouldn't have to fight to retain the rights to my creation. Seventy five years feels like a pretty solid time limit to me. By the time that runs out, the original creator is likely gone, and enough time has passed for hindsight to kick in and new outlooks and social norms would provide new insight and angles into the original work.

    Of course, when you're talking about a property like Superman, who has been in constant publication for all that time, copyright becomes a double edged sword. Even if Action #1 were public domain, stuff that was created later on still wouldn't be, so anyone who wanted to write a Superman story using the early, public domain work would have to be crazy careful to ensure that nothing he did came close to Superman stuff that wasn't public domain. Any allusions to a blonde cousin could result in a huge lawsuit, for example.

    But ultimately, Warners and Disney will never allow copyright to expire.
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  8. #8
    Incredible Member Lorendiac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Russ View Post
    Edit: All good. I Googled it.
    I was away having dinner, so I never saw whatever you said in the original version of that post. Which means -- in case you were worried -- that it certainly didn't manage to hurt my feelings!

    (I mention that because what you actually say in this revised version makes me suspect that you initially suggested I might have some of my facts and figures wrong -- and then you double-checked some details with online research, and found that I didn't?)
    Last edited by Lorendiac; 03-09-2015 at 04:27 PM.

  9. #9
    Newbie Member Russ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loorendiac View Post
    I was away having dinner, so I never saw whatever you said in the original version of that post. Which means -- in case you were worried -- that it certainly didn't manage to hurt my feelings!

    (I mention that because what you actually say in this revised version makes me suspect that you initially suggested I might have some of my facts and figures wrong -- and then you double-checked some details with online research, and found that I didn't?)
    Haha. It was just a general question about what happens when something becomes Public Domain. Google sorted me out.

  10. #10
    Incredible Member Lorendiac's Avatar
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    I see various people in this thread have each raised the same point about what they consider is very likely to happen to the "Action Comics #1" copyright in the future. (As in: "Will it ever be allowed to slip into the public domain under the laws of the USA, or not?")

    Quote Originally Posted by The Kid View Post
    It should have entered public domain when it first was supposed to. Unfortunately, in today's day and age, there's no way Disney and Warner are ever gonna let copyright laws expire
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony View Post
    As long as congress can be bought off Disney will continue to mine public domain while unlawfully extending the right to there properties.

    I wish our government wasn't so corrupt. Public domain is how culture builds on things not 1 original Disney or early DC comic creator is still alive as far as I know yet the corporations keep there iron grip grip on these properties.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    But ultimately, Warners and Disney will never allow copyright to expire.
    This reminds me of something:

    Years ago, in some other discussion thread about comic book copyrights -- I think it was happening right here on the CBR forums, but I can't Google for it because of last year's "reboot" -- I said much the same thing as what you guys have just said! In other words, I offered the pessimistic opinion that the big names in publishing and other forms of mass-media production, such as Disney, would have persuaded Congress to add another 20 years or more to the "lifespans of old copyrights" long before there was any "real danger" of such characters as Superman and Batman actually slipping into the public domain in the USA.

    Someone else vigorously disagreed with me! I don't remember his (or her) name, but the basic argument, loosely paraphrased from my imperfect memory, went something like this:

    "For much of the 20th Century, the USA was considered something of a 'rogue state' where copyright law was concerned, because that 56-year-limit was far, far shorter than what you generally got over in Europe, for instance. The changes made by Congress in the last few decades of the 20th Century were, if anything, an attempt to get things closer to the way it was done elsewhere in the international community, culminating with our formally becoming signatory to the Berne Convention (which had been around since the late 19th Century). Disney may have lobbied hard for retroactive extensions to old copyrights in the USA, but that doesn't mean they were the one and only Big Reason that majorities of both houses of Congress chose to make such changes, and it doesn't mean that they can successfully lobby for more and more 'extensions' at regular intervals all throughout the 21st Century and see it keep happening!"

    I didn't know if I agreed or disagreed -- I think I figured, at the time, that the acid test would be: "Will Congress extend the old copyrights again before the end of the year 2018, which I believe is when large masses of old stuff in the USA would once again -- for the first time in about 40 years -- start automatically passing into the public domain after its original copyright has hit the current expiration date?" (Stuff originally copyrighted in the USA during the year 1923, in other words.)

    If Congress makes such a change within the next few years, then we'll see anything created in the "old days" (from 1923 onward) getting even longer lengths of copyright protection, including various old Walt Disney cartoons from the 20s and 30s. If Congress does not make any such changes (despite the fact that I'm sure Disney would love to see them do so), that could serve to prove that other poster's point about how Disney does not actually have a Congressional majority permanently located in its hip pocket for future use. Time will tell!
    Last edited by Lorendiac; 03-10-2015 at 09:51 AM.

  11. #11
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    It should have remained 56 years.

    I would include this cartoon strip inline, but language....

    http://www.leftycartoons.com/wp-cont...icky_color.png

  12. #12
    Astonishing Member The Kid's Avatar
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    Interesting point Lorendiac but I highly doubt it. I'm pretty pessimistic about how Congress runs and I'm almost positive that the copyright will keep being pushed back due to corporate capitalism
    DC, hurry up and make your own version of Marvel Unlimited!

  13. #13
    Incredible Member Lorendiac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Kid View Post
    Interesting point Lorendiac but I highly doubt it. I'm pretty pessimistic about how Congress runs and I'm almost positive that the copyright will keep being pushed back due to corporate capitalism
    As I was typing that reply, it occurred to me that I haven't heard any recent news about Congress currently considering such a maneuver in the next few years (before "slipping into the public domain" is currently scheduled to start happening again). Frankly, when I had my previous discussion with whoever-it-was, I thought there was a good fighting chance it would have already happened by this time (2015). I certainly won't be surprised if it does happen in the next couple of years, but it at least looks possible that Congress may not bother to take the trouble, if they haven't bothered thus far.

    Four years from now (early 2019) I guess we'll know for sure if Congress allowed the 95-year-limit to stay put.

  14. #14
    Astonishing Member DochaDocha's Avatar
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    Lengthy copyright doesn't necessarily bother me. Is the world much worse off because corporation A can't use corporation B's copyrighted material? No. On the other hand, what does bother me is some of the overreach in punitive litigation against individuals, and rigid inflexibility in disallowing non-profitable use. For instance, remember all the legal wrangling because a sculptor used the Superman symbol on a statue to honor the victim of a violence?

  15. #15
    Incredible Member Lorendiac's Avatar
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    Hmm. I see that as it now stands, we are divided 50-50 between those voters who think Congress simply should have let well enough alone (so that the "Action Comics #1" copyright, like tons of other old copyrights, would have expired after 56 years, as everyone had originally expected), and those who feel the line should be drawn somewhere else.

    In the latter camp, 5 voters out of 7 think bumping the lifespans of old copyrights up from 56 to 75 was okay, but at that point Congress should have stopped rewriting the rules for old copyrights.

    In effect, that means only 2 voters seem to feel that neither 56 nor 75 is a good fit as "the magic number" for how long those old copyrights should remain in force.

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