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A BILL To amend title 17, United States Code, to allow abandoned copyrighted works to enter the public domain after 50 years.
Full text of the bill is available here (PDF).
The Public Domain Enhancement Act is a bill proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren that would increase the amount of works in the public domain.
The Public Domain Enhancement Act (PDEA) was introduced on June 25, 2003 by Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The bill seeks to increase works available in the public domain, which is the common pool of information and ideas upon which musicians, authors, filmmakers, etc. derive inspiration and materials for new works, leading to more creativity and innovation. When artists create more art, society as a whole benefits. No new works have passed into the public domain for the past five years because of copyright term extensions and the lifting of copyright registration and renewal requirements. When works remain under copyright, artists often have to pay high licensing fees to use them, which often constrains their ability to create.
The PDEA is a very simple and straightforward bill - it would require a copyright holder to pay a $1 renewal fee fifty years after his work is first published, and every ten years after until the end of the copyright term (now 95 years for corporations and 70 years after the death for an individual).
If passed, it would benefit artists and the public in two important ways:
More Works Pass into the Public Domain
If the copyright to a work is not renewed after the initial fifty year period (or in any of the succeeding ten year periods) the work will pass into the public domain. As past history has shown, the vast majority of copyright holders will choose not to renew, largely because most creative works lose their commercial value after only a few years. Thus, the PDEA will ensure a flood of new works into the public domain, free for all to use.
Copyrighted Works will be Identified and Copyright Owners Located
The registration/renewal process outlined by the PDEA would also empower artists and others by making it vastly easier to identify and contact owners of works. Today, the lack of registration and renewal requirements makes it extremely difficult and often prohibitively costly for an artist or other individual to determine whether a work is protected by copyright, and if so, who owns the copyright. Such a determination is very important. Under current law, using a copyrighted work without authorization from the owner makes the user automatically liable for large money damages. Thus, anyone who is uncertain of whether a work is protected will not take the chance of making a mistake. Through the renewal process, which requires nothing more than the electronic submission of a one-page document, the PDEA eliminates the risks and costs of finding a copyright holder by creating a public registry of copyrighted works. Those works of a certain age that are not on the registry can then automatically be assumed to be in the public domain.
Today's copyright laws often work to undermine artists' ability to create and innovate. The PDEA offers a partial solution to the current copyright conundrum by empowering individuals to better determine what information lies in the public domain, and by requiring copyright owners to be active in maintaining their ownership of creative works.