I stumbled on an interesting article, Copyright quirk leaves James Bond up for grabs in Canada, in the Globe and Mail the other day. In Canada, copyright expires 50 years after an author’s death. Ian Fleming died in 1964, which means his James Bond series of novels have become a part of the public domain in Canada.
However, this might be short lived. Michael Geist, a Canadian academic specializing in intellectual property and technology law issues, writes that Canada will likely accept extending copyright to life plus 70 years in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade negotiations. It has been life plus 70 years in the United States since 1998.
Copyright is granted to allow content creators to receive compensation for their work, providing an incentive to create original work. Many (myself included) would argue that 50 years of protection is ample – if I died tomorrow, my children, and their children, would directly benefit from any royalties collected from my work though my estate.
At some point, society receives a greater benefit from having the work enter the public domain, where anyone can read and re-print the text, and re-use the characters and story lines. I, for one, have enjoyed the BBC’s contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, made possible by the characters in the public domain.
In Canada, one can now create their own modern take on the James Bond character and novels, without getting permission or paying royalties to the rights holders (note that this does not include the movies).
The Bond books themselves can now be redistributed freely in Canada. Project Gutenberg is an organization that digitizes and distributes public domain texts – the works of Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Sir Arther Conan Doyle are all available. The Canadian branch of the site, Gutenberg.ca, has already taken advantage of our life+50 copyright and posted a copy of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger.
A part of me wants to buy Fleming’s books, scan them, and post them on a Canadian web site while I still can – unfortunately, this site is hosted in the US, so you won’t see them here.