Friday, September 13, 2013

Can academics use the "copyright termination" system to recover academic works?

Heard an interesting story on copyright termination on NPR last night: Taking Back 'Funkytown': Songwriters Prepare For A Custody Battle  By Joel Rose.  This in turn led me to a New York Times article on the same general topic: A Copyright Victory, 35 Years Later -

The gist of these stories is that it turns out UC Copyright law has a "termination" provision which allows artists / writers / etc to terminate copyright agreements that they made for work they produced.  This is allowed 35 years after the copyright was assigned.  And many musicians are using this provision of copyright law to reacquire some works they made three and a half decades ago.

So - I am asking the world out there - could this same provision be applied to scientific or academic works?  Would this be a way to move a lot of material that is behind a wall back into the hands of authors and/or into the public domain?  I am looking into doing this with work published by my father as a test case (as part of my long struggle of  Freeing My Father's Publications (since termination rights apparently transfer to family members if the holder passes away as my dad did in 1987).

So - anyone out there know if this termination has been used for scientific or academic works?

UPDATE: Other reading


  1. I don't know if this has been done, but I certainly like the idea. The guy who did the NPR story, Joel Rose, is a high school buddy of mine if you wanted to get in touch...

    Also, I wonder if this something that we could do even sooner to free up pubs recklessly published in non-OA journals before one flipped...

  2. Glad to know I wasn't the only one thinking about this :)

    @CopyrightLibn 's reply seemed to indicate you'd need to have access to the original contract though, which if necessary might prove a stumbling block :(

  3. Yes, it can be used to recapture rights, provided Notices of Termination are sent to the right party at the right time. The process is very formalistic - at least with regard to post 1977 works. There's a major exception, and that is true works for hire are immune from recapture.


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