July 16, 2024

Petition for Public Domain Enhancement Act

Larry Lessig writes:

We have launched a petition to build support for the Public Domain Enhancement Act. That act would require American copyright holders to pay $1 fifty years after a work was published. If they pay the $1, the copyright continues. If they don’t, the work passes into the public domain. Historical estimates would suggest 98% of works would pass into the pubilc domain after 50 years. The Act would do a great deal to reclaim a public domain.

This proposal has received a great deal of support. It is now facing some important lobbyists’ opposition. We need a public way to begin to demonstrate who the lobbyists don’t speak for. This is the first step.

Regardless of your position on the proper length and breadth of copyright, I hope you will agree with me that there is no reason to maintain the copyright on works that are essentially abandoned. A great many old works are simply unusable, because it would cost too much to figure out who owns the copyrights on them. The Public Domain Enhancement Act would put only two tiny “burdens” on copyright owners: (1) pay a fee of one dollar to maintain their copyright on any old work, and (2) register their ownership of the copyrights on old works so that potential licensees can find their owners.

The beauty of this approach is that, while imposing essentially no cost on the owners of commercially valuable copyrights, it reclaims for the public domain that vast majority of works that have no remaining commercial value after fifty years. To enter the public domain, a work has to be so devoid of commercial value that the copyright owner isn’t willing to pay even one dollar to maintain its copyright. This seems like such a no-brainer that it’s hard to see how anyone who takes cultural progress seriously could oppose it.

If you agree with me, please sign the petition.


  1. Reclaim the Public Domain

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