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Now We Can All Take That Road Not Taken! The Copyright Freeze Has Melted

Posted on 3 min read 123 views

Once again my dual lives as a lawyer by day and an author at night have intersected in what is unquestionably a happy new year for all of us–including even Mickey Mouse. Two decades ago the Congress passed an amendment to the Copyright Act that added an additional twenty years to lives of the copyrights in all original works created on and after 1923. Had Congress not acted, hundreds of original works–books, songs, plays, photographs, paintings, poems, and the like–would have fallen into the public domain on January 1, 1999.

And once a work falls into the public domain, it is free for you to use anyway you want. You can make copies (and even sell copies), create derivative works (such as a movie from the novel), market t-shirts with your favorite lines from a poem, or otherwise exploit a work that, if still under copyright, would constitute infringement and expose you to the risk of a lawsuit and financial loss. For example, William Shakespeare’s plays and Jane Austen’s novels and Mark Twain’s novels are all in the public domain. And that means that you don’t need to pay anyone for the right to stage “Hamlet” (or make a movie version) or to download a free copy of Huckleberry Finn or to add zombies to your sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

The copyright laws, which date back to the enactment of the U.S. Constitution, are premised on the belief that you will enrich the culture if you give creators a financial incentive, and that incentive would be a monopoly over all rights in their creations for a limited time. Back then, that limited time was 28 years after creation. By 1978, that “limited time” had grown to the life of the author plus 50 years or 75 years total for a work of corporate authorship (such as a motion picture). And then, in 1998, pursuant to “The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” (also derisively labeled “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by critics who viewed the extension as a money-grubbing attempt by The Walt Disney Company to maintain their monopoly over Mickey Mouse), Congress added another 20-year term to all works made during or after 1923. In other words, copyrighted works created in 1923, which would have fallen into the public domain on January 1, 1999, would now remain under copyright until January 1, 2019.

But now the freeze has ended. If you’d like to see the lists of creative works that fell into the public domain shortly after we all uncorked champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve, you can go here or here. And if you’d like to read my legal blog post on the topic, you can go here.

As for the title of this post, many (or perhaps all) of you recognize that line from one of Robert Frost’s most powerful poems. That particular poem had actually fallen into the public domain seven years before the 1998 extension. But another powerful–indeed, magical–Frost poem is among the hundred of works that fell into the public domain, free to all, on January 1, 2019. If you’d like to put that poem on t-shirts or greeting cards or use it as lyrics for a song, go for it. And, if like me, you love that poem so much that you want to end your blog post with it, have at it! Enjoy:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Beers, Brands, Books, and Brawls

Posted on 2 min read 161 views

My bio describes me as a lawyer by day and an author at night–and I generally try to keep those two identities separate. But a recent trademark brawl over the word SCHLAFLY–a name associated with both the late conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly and her nephew Tom’s brewery–inspired me to write a post on that lawsuit for my law firm’s blog, and in the process got me to mull over the many examples of men and women who turned their last names into trademarks associated with the companies they founded.

The Simon and Schuster of Simon & Schuster

In particular, I thought about the publishing world, and quickly realized that the names of the big publishing houses are so established that it’s easy to forget that those names were, once upon a time, the names of the founders. Just as, say, many of us may not realize that Goodyear Tire’s founder was Charles Goodyear and Bird’s Eye Frozen Foods owes its name to Charles Birdseye, I didn’t realize that Doubleday, the publisher of my novel The Mourning Sexton (under the pen name Michael Baron), was founded by Frank Nelson Doubleday, whose image is displayed at the top of this post.

Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster combined their efforts to create Simon & Schuster. James and John Harper and William Collins created HarperCollins. Louis Hachette founded Hachette. MacMillan got its name from its founders, Alexander and Daniel.

So if you’re thinking about naming a company after yourself or you’re just curious to learn more about the family brawl over the name SCHLAFLY, you can find my blog post here. To paraphrase Sigmund Freud’s famous (and perhaps defensive) remark about cigars, sometimes a beer is just a beer. But sometimes that beer can trigger a brawl that may yet end up in the United States Supreme Court.

 

Make America Naughty Again

Posted on 1 min read 210 views

As many of my readers know, I haven’t been able to quit my day job. Fortunately, the focus of my day job is intellectual property law–a legal realm sprinkled with just enough quirky issues to keep my day job fun.

One such example is the subject of my latest post on my law firm’s blog, entitled “Make America Naughty Again: The Risk of Risque Trademarks.” Back when I took a class in trademark law at Harvard, I never dreamed that the question of whether you could register an X-rated trademark would be the subject of important federal court cases. But now it has–and resulted in important rulings by the United States Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Or, as we might now say, Shit Happens®.

Here is a link to that post. Hope you enjoy it.

FYI: The image at the top of this post is just one of more than 100 pending “shit” trademark registration applications. A similar number of applications have been filed to register trademarks containing a word that rhymes with “truck.”

Books and Cigars? Yep!

Posted on 1 min read 108 views

Never done a book event in a cigar bar, so this should be interesting–and fun (and hopefully not too smoky)!!

Here’s the link to the event–and to the rest of the Bookfest events.

When: 3 pm September 23rd.

Where: Brennan’s (4659 Maryland Ave., St. Louis MO)

Can’t Leave Rachel Out!

Posted on 1 min read 84 views

As you might infer, the main character in my Rachel Gold mystery series is named Rachel Gold. But back in the beginning, back many years ago, on the eve of publication of my first novel, Grave Designs, there was no Rachel Gold mystery series. Just a mystery novel featuring as the protagonist a savvy young female attorney named Rachel Gold. Period. But before long, upon the urgings of my agent and publisher, there was second Rachel Gold mystery novel, and then a third, and so on.

Every few years, however, I decide it’s time for a change of pace, time to write a standalone novel that’s outside the series. Such as my newest one, Played!.

But, as explained in an essay that Crimespree magazine published on the eve of the release of Played!, Rachel somehow finds a way to make a fun cameo appearance in each of those non-Rachel-Gold novels, including the new one. Here is a link to that essay. Enjoy.

Pre-Publication Reviews of PLAYED!

Posted on 1 min read 69 views

Here are some excerpts:

  • “. . . brisk, sprightly entertainment.”
    • Kirkus Review
  • “Kahn is the author of the popular Rachel Gold series, and this stand-alone (for now) has the same sharp dialogue, wit, and clever plotting her fans have come to expect.”
    • Booklist
  • ” . . . this neat little yarn from Kahn (The Dead Hand and nine other Rachel Gold mysteries) . . . [a] pleasant tale built on the love between two brothers.”
    • Publishers Weekly

And for fans of Rachel Gold, I promise that she makes a brilliant cameo appearance in this new novel.