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I wish to draw everyone's attention to a web site that, in my opinion, publishes the most up-to-date & no-nonsense information on copyright (mostly U.S. but some beyond as well). Every January 1st since 2010 they have published Public Domain Day. Today they released their 2015 article on what could have entered the public domain today uder the law that existed until 1978. Public Domain Day is associated with the Duke Law Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Every single person in science, arts and education needs to check out this site at least once a year as a refresher & to find out about any recent changes in the law -- and point your students to it as well. For those who haven't really bothered to keep up & depend on the advice of colleagues, this site is a wake-up call. E.g., for research involving published source material:
If the pre-1978 laws were still in effect, we could have seen 85% of the works published in 1986 enter the public domain on January 1, 2015. Imagine what that would mean to our archives, our libraries, our schools and our culture. Such works could be digitized, preserved, and made available for education, for research, for future creators. Instead, they will remain under copyright for decades to come, perhaps even into the next century.
... and for access to previous research:
A distressing number of scientific articles from 1958 remain behind paywalls, including those in major journals such as Science and JAMA. You can’t read these articles unless you pay or subscribe. And the institutional access that many top scientists enjoy is not guaranteed—even institutions such as Harvard have considered canceling their subscriptions because they could no longer afford the escalating prices of major journal subscriptions.
It’s remarkable to find scientific research from 1958 hidden behind publisher paywalls. Thankfully, some publishers have made older articles available in full online, so that you can read them, even though it may still be illegal to copy and distribute them. In addition, some older articles have been made available on third party websites, but this is not a stable solution for providing reliable access to science. Third party postings can be difficult to find or taken down, links can get broken, and would-be posters may be deterred by the risk of a lawsuit. Under the pre-1978 copyright term, all of this history would be free to scholars, students, and enthusiasts.