Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sonny Bono and Proust

I learn that Sonny Bono's 1998 copyright term extension act had the unintended consequence of inhibiting the publication of translations of of Proust

"Bono's legislation effectively froze the date at which works go into the public domain at 1923, instead of marching forward twelve months with each passing year. In Search of Lost Time was caught in this web, because only the first four volumes were published before 1923. The Prisoner, The Fugitive, and Finding Time Again are still protected under U.S. copyright law...

Of course, Viking could have contacted all of Proust's likely heirs, but its legal department probably advised against taking this step on the grounds that someone might be missed, only to turn up later accompanied by a lawyer. Or perhaps the cost was simply thought prohibitive--what if the final heir held out for millions of dollars? In any event, Viking decided to wait until 2019, when the U.S. copyright on The Prisoner will finally expire. It remains to be seen whether the company will still be interested the project at that time."

Apparently, amonsgt those who know about Proust, the new translations are considered to be superior to the 1920s versions but interested Proustians need to import their copies of the latter three works from the UK.

Update: Matthew Yglesias has some well articulated thoughts on why perpetual copyright might not be such a good idea, as does William Stepp
and Iiya Somin. And the ever vigilant Larry Lessig has started a wiki on the subject.

Update 2: Just noticed the Against Monopoly folks have a lot of recent posts on this subject including most of the links I mention above plus many more.

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