love is forever. copyright, not so much

Most folks who have a significant stake in copyrighted works probably will have already known about this years ago, but this story in Wired highlights the potential cultural impact of copyright termination in the US. A brief excerpt:

The Copyright Act includes two sets of rules for how this works. If an artist or author sold a copyright before 1978 (Section 304), they or their heirs can take it back 56 years later. If the artist or author sold the copyright during or after 1978 (Section 203), they can terminate that grant after 35 years. Assuming all the proper paperwork gets done in time, record labels could lose sound recording copyrights they bought in 1978 starting in 2013, 1979 in 2014, and so on. For 1953-and-earlier music, grants can already be terminated.

The Eagles plan to file grant termination notices by the end of the year, according to “It’s going to happen,” said Eveline. “Just think of what the Eagles are doing when they get back their whole catalog. They don’t need a record company now…. You’ll be able to go to (updated) and get all their songs. They’re going to do it; it’s coming up.”

This isn’t just about music. “It’s every type of copyright,” said Bernstein. “It doesn’t distinguish between the types of copyright.”

The only exceptions, he said, are derivative works such as movies based on novels that include certain music in their soundtracks, because Congress decided it was unfair to ask publishers to give those licenses back to artists and authors.

This has already taken place for a number of high-profile works, such as those of Jack Kirby (who created or co-created a whole host of well-known comic characters for Marvel, such as X-Men and the Fantastic Four), Joel Shuster (Superman) and John Steinbeck.

Although the focus has been primarily on artistic works to date, it will be interesting to see what impact this might have on software authored in that same time frame by non-employees of software companies. Perhaps in this regard the (usually) relatively short lifespan of software due to technological obsolescence is a blessing. So far, I’ve not come across any news regarding termination notices related to software. I don’t expect to, either, though do admit I’m curious as to the possible size of the risk.