October 27, 2004

First Peter Pan, Now Scarlett O’Hara [7:14 pm]

Gone With the Wind heirs threaten Project Gutenberg [via CopyFight's Copyright Balance Gone With the Wind?]

The Stephens Mitchell Trusts wants Australian Gutenberg volunteers either to remove Gone With the Wind from their servers or else take steps to prevent downloads in countries where copyright law bans unauthorized distribution of the 1936 classic.

Otherwise, a lawyer for the heirs says in email and a certified letter, “we will take all appropriate steps to protect and enforce our clients’ rights.”

[...] [T]he Gutenberg volunteers face a possible legal trap–in fact, two. If the Australian Gutenberg takes down the novel without a request from the American PG [Project Gutenberg] even though Australian law does not require this, Margaret Mitchell’s estate may just say the two groups are in cahoots with each other. The estate might claim that the Australians were trying to protect the Americans. If the U.S. Gutenberg asks for a take-down, the estate might also claim a close relationship.

A related argument might be trademark. The estate lawyers may use this as further evidence of an actual tie.

[...] Significantly, Margaret Mitchell died in on August 16, 1949. Without the Bono Act, the book’s copyright would have expired in 1999. Now, however, in the States, the book apparently won’t enter the public domain until 2019. With this situation in mind, it is high time that Congress either repealed Bono or at least mitigated it–lest greedy heirs and Doberman lawyers shut down worthwhile efforts like Gutenberg.

Meanwhile Australia, which appears on the cusp of increasing copyright terms past the 50-year mark, would do well to consider the repercussions before letting wealthy American heirs and donation-crazed U.S. politicians dictate law to them. The expected changes in Australian copyright law would not have come out without U.S. pressure by way of a trade agreement.

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