This coming year marks the first time in two decades that a large body of copyrighted works will lose their protected status — a shift that will have profound consequences for publishers and literary estates, which stand to lose both money and creative control.
When the first Copyright Act was passed in the United States in 1790, the maximum term was 28 years. Over the decades, lawmakers repeatedly prolonged the terms, which now stretch to over a century for many works. “It’s worse than the tax code,” said Rebecca Tushnet, an intellectual property expert at Harvard Law School. “The copyright term is way too long now.”