Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

02 Jan 2008, 15:03 p.m.

Yay For Our Common Heritage

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2008 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

According to a blog that watches the public domain, as of yesterday lots of works became free for all of us to reprint, remix, and generally be creative with. Depending on the country you're in, the magic year is probably 1937 or 1957 (the date of death of the author). Some of the authors whose works passed into the public domain yesterday:

  • Russian novelist, playwright, and essayist Yevgeny Zamiatin (a.k.a. Zamyatin), author of the very weird dystopia We, written as Soviet Russia was beginning to show its true colors. I have bought one copy of We, and received one as an anonymous gift mailed to my workplace. And soon you can read it for free! Think Gogol.
  • American composer George Gershwin, of George and Ira Gershwin.
  • Bengali scientist and author Jagadish Chandra Bose. This is the kind of guy you thought died with the Englightenment. Wrote sci-fi, did groundbreaking physics and botany, all while Great Britain had India under its boot.
  • French author Jean de Brunhoff, author of the Babar elephant books.
  • American fantasy and science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos. Whoooo! Scary!
  • Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who freaking invented the radio (basically) (and oh yeah was a Fascist).
  • American statesman and Nobel laureate Elihu Root, arguably one of the 100 most influential people in US history.
  • Scottish novelist and dramatist J.M. Barrie (except for Peter Pan).
  • French composer Maurice Ravel, famous for Bolero -- or is that chunk of work waiting till 2015?
  • Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, a collaborator and rival of Sigmund Freud.
  • American novelist Edith Wharton, author of about a zillion books including The Age of Innocence and The Buccaneers. No one except my sister and me remembers the Masterpiece Theatre presentation of The Buccaneers, featuring a guy exclaiming with a weird aristocratic accent, "I'm not a monster!"
As a celebration of our love for public domain literature, Leonard and I gave a Christmas gift to a few of his family: the Project Gutenberg best-of DVD. Leonard burned them and I decorated them with the label "Civilization: A DVD Archive."

For a measure of the long tail, check out the top 100 books downloaded from Project Gutenberg over the last 30 days. Half of them I'd never heard of before. Makes me wonder whether Leonard or I will be on that list someday.

It's your past, your cultural heritage, your public domain. Promote it, celebrate it, and use it, or we will lose it.


02 Jan 2008, 21:48 p.m.

Okay this is like the third time in as many days that We has come up and I am REALLY GETTING FREAKED OUT NOW

Sumana Harihareswara
02 Jan 2008, 23:47 p.m.

OK, I need to check whether it's 70 years after the death of the author or 90 years after publication, or the longer of the two, or what. But first, sleep.

Martin: Whooo!

03 Jan 2008, 4:19 a.m.

In the US the relevant rule is life+70 for works published/created after 1978, for works published before 1978 the relevant law reads:Article 17 Sec 304 (a) (1) <br>(A) Any copyright, the first term of which is subsisting on January 1, 1978, shall endure for 28 years from the date it was originally secured.


(C)In the case of any other copyrighted work, including a contribution by an individual author to a periodical or to a cyclopedic or other composite work�<br>...<br>shall be entitled to a renewal and extension of the copyright in such work for a further term of 67 years.So anything copyrighted before 1978 either a) entered the public domain on or before 2006 if it wasnt renewed, or b) was renewed, and only enters the public domain in 2008 if it was copyrighted before 1913.</br></br>


05 Jan 2008, 17:20 p.m.

This Bose guy is a badass:

"Bose returned to India in 1885, carrying a letter from Fawcett, the economist to Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India. On Lord Ripon�s request Sir Alfred Croft, the Director of Public Instruction, appointed Bose officiating professor of physics in Presidency College. The principal C.H.Tawney protested against the appointment but had to accept it.[8]

Bose was not provided with facilities for research. On the other hand, he was �victim of racialism� with regard to his salary.[8] In those days, an Indian professor was paid Rs. 200 per month, while an European drew Rs. 300 per month. Since Bose was officiating, he was offered a salary of only Rs. 100 per month.[9] With remarkable sense of self respect and national pride he decided on a new form of protest.[8] Bose refused to accept the salary cheque. In fact, he continued his teaching assignment for three years without salary.[10] Finally both the Director of Public Instruction and the Principal of the Presidency College fully realised the value of Bose�s skill in teaching and also his lofty character. As a result his appointment was made permanent with retrospective effect. He was given the full salary for the previous three years in lumpsum.[4]"