Writing, speaking, and translating the future

And Now Back to our Show: Copyright revisited


Mickey the smuggler
Air Pirates cover from 1971 with Mickey Mouse smuggling drugs

Almost 8 years ago I started this blog with a discussion of copyright law. My goal was to catch the eye of Kindle’s Digital publishing group so I could get hired at Amazon. It didn’t work. I did eventually got hired but it had nothing to do with the blog. But out of deference to Amazon’s desire for secrecy I shut down the blog and stopped writing about localization. I’m returning to the subject now because I think at the core of many of the new media battles will be copyright and all of the ramifications it has on the cultural implications and the commodification of art, artists, and their works.  I began that post with the below quote.

“Eventually we will reach a pirate and a mouse, Sonny of Sonny and Cher, and how all of this effects ebooks, writers, and publishing. Or is this where the story begins?”

Well I want to return to this topic as closure before I pivot this blog to localization and other topics that interest me these days.

In 1998 Sonny Bono wrote and backed the Copyright term extension act of 1998.  The law was written to preserte the chastity of Minnie Mouse and Keep Donald Duck and Goofy off Drugs.  In 1998 the Disney characters were about to enter the public domain and the Sonny Bono act prevented it essentiallay extending copyright to 100 years. Great for authors, but horrible for the public domain. And I would not be surprised if the Disney corporation begins  again looking to buy the love of a congressional figure to once again extend protections to the mouse.

“Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, Sonny Bono Act, or (derisively) the Mickey Mouse Protection Act,[4] effectively “froze” the advancement date of the public domain in the United States for works covered by the older fixed term copyright rules. Under this Act, works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still protected by copyright in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2019 or later. Mickey Mouse specifically, having first appeared in 1928, will be in a public domain work in 2024[5] or afterward (depending on the date of the product) unless the owner of the copyright releases them into the public domain before then. “


The Air Pirates from a San Francisco Communal home. The home, a former fire station was owned by Francis Ford Coppola.  Ironically from this firehouse they set ablaze popular culture with an assault on Mickey and his pals when they published Air Pirates Funnies in July and August 1971. The Disney corporation did not find these comics funny and  lawsuits in the case dragged on until 1980.  The whole episode is well documented in Bob Levin’s The Pirates and the Mouse.

What this means for ebooks is that any work copyrighted after 1923 cannot be distributed in any digital form until after the 100 year expiration. This does not allow US citizens the accessibility they should have to content in the public domain. The implications of these cases will play out over the years to come as distribution, ownership, and sales of creative works changes. Objects give way to bits and this will necessitate difficult and convoluted discussions in music, publishing, films, and many other creative works.

Well now that I have that off my chest this blog will shift to a decidedly different questions. How do you take products global and make the customer feel as if the product was designed for them in their own language? And what are the implications on ownership, distribution, rights, and production when exact copies can be made at no cost, ownership of physical objects is replaced to licensed use to stream bits, and the distribution of creative works is accomplished through data centers rather than logistics.

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