The Public Domain: “Elementary, My Dear Watson”

#FreeSherlock, indeed. From CNBC and the NY Times‘ Arts blog comes news that some Sherlock Holmes story elements are now in the public domain for American audiences and authors to remix and use royalty-free, thanks to a ruling from an Illinois federal court. Under America’s copyright law, a work (whether literary, musical, or artistic) enters the public domain once copyright protection expires. Copyright terms can be complicated, depending on when the work was first published, so be sure to consult with an IP attorney before using something you think is in the public domain or before publishing your work to ensure your work’s well protected.

If my firm can help you with your copyright, trademark, or other IP needs, call me (913-707-9220) or email me ( for a convenient, free consultation.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Opening the Song Vault

Drumroll please … The BBC has this story (a version of which I heard on KC’s local NPR affiliate, KCUR, Tuesday morning) about the iTunes release of 59 Beatles tracks from 1963. While a song’s “official release” doesn’t matter under U.S. copyright law (and the Kansas and Missouri corollaries) for length of copyright protection, European law does. (U.S. copyright law is driven by “publication.”) EU copyright law protects songs for 70 years if they’re officially released, but only for 50 years if they’re not officially released. So while the 59 Beatles tracks would be protected under U.S. law, they’d go into that royalty-free zone we call the public domain in the European Union if they weren’t officially released. Voila! Songs officially released and copyright lapse problem solved. The new release is called The 50th Anniversary Collection and ironically (yet honestly) subtitled The Copyright Extension Collection. On the bright side, at least in Europe, artists (or their estates) release material to obtain copyright protection; in America, Congress often just tweaks the copyright law term, the most recent example being the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) (1998), which allowed Mickey Mouse, Gone with the Wind, and other landmark works to remain in copyright and not become public domain IP to be remixed or enjoyed gratis.

If my law firm can help you or your company protect your songs, photos, art, or other creative work, call (913-707-9220) or email me ( for a convenient, free consultationMy firm is experienced helping clients navigate the IP law, while adding value to clients’ creative arts and IP, and provides friendly, affordable counsel for your legal needs.

(c) 2013, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.