Copyright and Neighboring Rights Duration in Historical and Comparative Perspective

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The issue of the duration of copyright has provoked controversy throughout the history of copyright law in both common law and civil law countries. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, famous (or notorious) court cases and heated parliamentary debates in England and France pitted partisans of lengthy – even perpetual – protection against advocates for a public domain of copyright-expired works. Durational limits mean that after a reasonable period, anyone should be free to exploit the fruits of others’ creative labors, whether in devising their own new works, or in broadly circulating the work in its original guise. The expirationi in 2024, of the copyright in “Steamboat Willie,” the precursor to Mickey Mouse, has renewed interest in the U.S. in the principle of a limited copyright term (“limited Times” in the U.S. constitution’s phrase). In Europe, the expiration of the copyright in St. Exupéry’s “The Little Prince,” in most countries in 2015 (70 years after the author’s death), but not in France until 2033 (due to wartime extensions), prompts a similar awareness of the temporal limits on the copyright term. In this study, we trace the history of copyright duration from the eighteenth century to the Berne Convention and later multilateral instruments, and to the U.S. adoption in 1976, of a copyright term consistent with Berne norms.


Intellectual Property Law | Law

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