Noah Webster had argued for a copyright law when his Grammatical Institute of the English Language (1783) was being pirated and he was being denied profits from his book. On May 31, 1790, the US Congress enacted the US Copyright law. President George Washington signed it into law also on May 31, 1790. The law gave authors the exclusive right to publish and sell books, charts, and maps for 14 years. The author was allowed to renew the copyright for an additional 14 years. The Act said that violators of the law “shall forfeit all and every copy . . . to the author . . . who shall forthwith destroy the same.” As for the offenders, they would “forfeit and pay the sum of fifty cents for every sheet” found in his possession. The copyright’s owner could also file a lawsuit in “any court of record in the United States . . . within one year . . . .”
Copyrights became available for drawings, models, paintings, and photographs in the 19th century. Musical rolls for player pianos were added to the list of items available for copyright in 1909. Since the 1970s, copyrights have become available for cable television, computer software, DVDs, MP3s, and tapes.
The lengths of the copyright have gotten longer. Until 1998, copyrights lasted for the duration of the author’s life plus an additional 50 years before going into the public domain. In 1998, however, the term of the copyright was extended for an additional 20 years.
Think how many books no longer fall within the protection of the copyright laws. There must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of books, within the public domain. With the advent of ereaders, obtaining copies of those public domain books has become easier leaving one to believe that there will always be a source of books to read. It occurred to me the other day, since they are in the public domain, i.e., no longer covered by a copyright, why are we paying for them? Probably to pay for the costs of converting the book to an ebook. One can but wonder how much it costs to convert the book. Be that as it may, you can always go to Google Books and try your luck there. For instance, I entered The Scarlet Letter, and the book was there in an easy-to-read format. As of October 2009, Google had scanned over 10 million public domain books, and created a world-wide controversy in doing so, apparently.
I can barely get to my TBR (to be read) piles, one on my ereader and one on my bookshelves. much less the hundreds of thousands of free books available to us. It is somehow comforting to know, though, that there will always be books for me to read even if I get super ambitious and read everything in my TBR piles. All I’d have to do then is to win the Lottery so I could buy more books or (not being inclined to holding my breath while the latter happens), I could return to Google Books and browse their library.
Do you have a TBR pile? I know, I know, doesn’t everyone? If you do, how many books do you have in your TBR pile? If you don’t, why don’t you?