Expired copyright: still copyrighted?

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Continuing the discussion from How to change a file "type"?:

Doesn’t that make them no longer copyrighted?


I guess that depends on how you see it. :slight_smile: Laws can change so works which were in the public domain are no longer in the public domain, and some jurisdictions still require certain things (notably, attribution) even after a work has fallen into the public domain. I guess you could say that they’re no longer copyrighted; I prefer to think of it as the copyright (lit., right to copy) now belonging to the public.

(Disclaimer: IANAL.)


I always understood “copyright” to mean “exclusive copyright” since if it’s not exclusive it’s not worth mentioning as an exceptional situation.

So when something has fallen into the public domain, the exclusive right to copy now belongs to the public; since “it’s exclusive to everyone” is meaningless, that means that it must be no longer copyrighted.


This is why, IMO, as it is practically impossible to determinate the end date or the ended status of our tons of copyrights, it is handy to consider our copyright relationship as a single dated, ended, registration act. As said in previous topic.


I heavily doubt that (at least for “reasonable” countries that value the rule of law; dictatorships may very well be different). It would certainly be unconstitutional in Germany.


I never claimed that the EU is reasonable nor constitutional in Germany (though calling it a dictatorship is still a bit of a stretch). :slight_smile:

(From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_European_Union#Duration_of_protection (emphasis mine).)

Wikipedia also states that “Many countries have extended the length of their copyright terms (sometimes retroactively).” but besides the EU example, I can’t find any other references to which countries that would be.


But the revived rights were somewhat limited in that they didn’t apply to previous “acts of exploitation”; i.e. if you already had a recording, it didn’t retroactively become illegal. The details were very complicated, and it only was possible (more or less) because the whole thing was a harmonization to what most member states already had implemented.

The gory details were decided by the European Court of Justice in C-60/98 (Butterfly), among others:

… could be revived, without prejudice to acts of exploitation performed before that date, while leaving it to the Member States to adopt measures to protect acquired rights of third parties. Such measures must be regarded as measures which the Member States are under an obligation to adopt …


As I understand it, copyright is a limited restriction placed on our general right to use all aspects of our common language and culture.

This restricting is done to make extra value for those who put time into producing works which (presumably) benefit our culture.

Once the limitation of that restriction is reached then copyright ceases, the work becomes, like all other non-copyrighted works, available to any and all to use as they wish - it moves from private control into the public domain.