- Sony is claiming copyright over “Zorro” and has sent a C&D to Sobini Films, which is wanting to produce a movie set in the future (well, 2010 – barely the future any more!) about Zorro. Johnston McCulley first introduced Zorro in 1919 in The Curse of Capistrano. The BBC article states it thusly: “Sobini contends it acquired the rights to Johnston McCulley’s book The Curse of Capistrano…” “Acquired the rights”? It’s a public domain work! BBC
- OK, this news is from May, but for some reason I just saw it now. A copyright is being claimed on a formerly unknown work by Vivaldi that recently turned up in an archive. Let us remember that Vivaldi died in the 1700s. The opera (“Motezuma”) was found in a German library collection. I can only assume the library is claiming that it was never published and copyright didn’t attach to it?
Imagine if libraries get to own copyrights on things out of their special collections. The resulting treasure hunt will certainly encourage library administrators to put more money into cataloging the special collections departments. On the other hand, what heirs of famous artists and authors will want to donate works that might yet turn out to be profitable for their great-great-great-great-great-several-times-over-grandchildren?
I’m inspired to look into the question of copyright of archived unpublished materials. But off the top of my head, I would suggest that a work being made publicly available in a library collection ought to constitute publication. So, whenever the Vivaldi collection was initially made public, copyright on otherwise-unpublished works begins tolling. The libraries that hold works in their collections will profit as museums do now, from controlling access to the original and licensing reproductions.
Granted, that surely won’t be as satisfying for the holder of the original copy of a composition or literary work, compared with, say, a painting or sketch. In compositions and literary works, the copyrightable expression is all carried by symbolic languages, which are easily replicable. Collectors will still attach value to the original, but the value of the work will flow with the symbolic languages.
With a painting or sketch, on the other hand, more of the value flows with the original work. The work is not reducable into an easily transcribed symbolic language — it can only be distributed by photographic reproductions of the exact work. And even then, the artist’s expression can only be partially captured by two-dimensional photographic reproductions: The original ink and paper were artistic choices, and brush strokes include three-dimensional information that is not easily captured by photographs.
So the papers of famous scholars and artists are not going to be quite the boon for libraries that holdings of museums are. That’s the trade-off of being an archive rather than a museum, IMO. An archive gets a lot of stuff that you haven’t yet had time to classify (less often the case than in a museum), but it’s not as often the kind of stuff that might make your institution a fortune.