John Larrysson Column:Public Domain in 2015

Something important will happen soon. On January 1, 2015, a whole year of copyrights will expire under Hong Kong law (Copyright Ordinance Section 17). Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus fifty years. That extra fifty years is to provide for the author's widow and orphans. After that their work becomes public property. Anyone can use, copy, sell or rewrite these books, stories and songs. So which writers died in 1964?

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Among the novelists is our most famous death. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond stories. In 2015 anyone in Hong Kong can make a new James Bond movie. However the movies made by others are still under their own copyright, which has not expired. Other writers who died in 1964 include Terence (Tim) Hanbury White who wrote dozens of books. Many of them were based on the old British legends of King Arthur. Also Mary Flannery O'Connor, wrote novels about morally flawed people in the US South. Many other writers have copied and used ideas from these books. Ideas are not protected by copyright only the actual text.

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Some of this year's writers were very political. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. It was a book of environmental anecdotes that prompted great interest in controlling pollution. Brendan Behan was an Irish revolutionary, hard drinker, writer and poet. His books, plays and songs talked about resistance to being ruled from England. Sean O'Casey (Cathasaigh) also wrote plays supporting Irish independence. In addition to their writing, they left society an independent Ireland. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane was a violent communist revolutionary and a famous geneticist. His many well-known books covered politics, philosophy, biochemistry, biology, genetics and evolution. These writings have already changed the world and now they will be publicly owned.

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Several famous song writers' and poets' works are becoming public property. Cole Porter was an American songwriter with many musicals to his credit. Samuel (Sam) Cooke was both a singer and song writer whose style has been copied by many others. Many of his songs were hits (very popular) in America. The poet Edwin John Dove Pratt is the most famous Canadian among this year's elite writers. Edith Louisa Sitwell wrote many books of poetry. Songs and poems, like books, have copyrights. Many other people have sung and recorded these songs and poems. Only the original text and not their later recordings by others are coming into the public domain.

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These peoples' writing is still read and remembered fifty years after they died. That is the main qualification to be considered literature rather than just another book published and promoted through the usual means. Remember that only the actual original text (including characters and setting...) comes into the public domain. Typographical arrangements of published editions have protection for twenty-five years. That means the text may be copied, but the layout can't be photocopied. Other places may have different durations for copyrights.

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Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this article is not formal legal advice. It is based on my reading of the HK Copyright Ordinance and Dr. Alice Lee's Intellectual Property in Hong Kong. No guarantee whatsoever is made that the text is legally accurate. Laws can be changed and may have been modified or overturned after this article was written.


Intellectual Property Department:

Chapter 528 Copyright

Intellectual Property in Hong

Read More: 2014 Public Domain

by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.


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