Public Domain Enhancement Act (HR 2408)

I’m a little late catching this, but Rep. Lofgren has introduced the Public Domain Enhancement Act (HR 2408). The law would require copyright owners to pay $1 after 50 years (and each 10 years thereafter) to maintain their copyright; otherwise, the work would fall into the public domain.

As a general proposition, I think anything that would put more copyrighted works into the public domain faster is a good idea. By setting up an easy-to-comply-with formality, the law allows those who care about their copyrights to maintain them easily, while screening out those who don’t. As a practical matter, however, “binary” technicalities and formalities create hardship cases, so the law’s efficacy would come at the cost of some bluntness.

However, I’m surprised that Lofgren introduced this law while we’re awaiting the report of the Copyright Office in response to its request for comment on orphan works. I can’t imagine that Congress will take any action while the Copyright Office is processing the nearly 900 submissions it got. Therefore, this proposal seems DOA, and I do wonder what motivated Lofgren to waste her time.

Meanwhile, this law is surely a testament to Larry Lessig’s influence. He’s been banging the drum on the topic of copyright durations for a while, and it must be satisfying to him to have a legislator introduce a law specifically codifying his proposal.

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