Imagine James Bond in the Public Domain (meaning under no copyright restrictions). It’s actually not too hard. Sherlock Holmes has been in the Public Domain since 1988, and what we have seen is an explosion in unlicensed novels that find Holmes battling Dracula, traveling through time, and even confronting the War of the Worlds
martians. Could the same thing happen to James Bond?
Well, it would have happened on New Years Day had U.S. copyright laws not been amended in 1976.
An interesting article in Clarksville Online
points out that current U.S. law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years). Under those laws, works published in 1953 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2010.
Of course, Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale
, was published in 1953.
So if we were still under the copyright laws that were in effect at the time of Casino
’s publication, the world’s most famous secret agent would have entered the public domain on January 1, 2010, even assuming that Fleming had renewed the copyright.
However, under current copyright law of 1978, we won’t see James Bond enter the Public Domain for another 39 years. This is because the copyright term for works published between 1950 and 1963 was extended to 95 years from the date of publication, so long as the works were published with a copyright notice and the term renewed (which is generally the case with famous works such as this).
So looks like you’ll have to tuck that “007 vs. the Martians” manuscript back into your drawers until 2049.