Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why James Bond didn't enter the Public Domain on January 1st

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.


  1. Damn : I had finally managed to convince my agent to propose ' You Never Die Twice ' to Eon...

  2. It would have been interesting to see a non-EON TV series version of the 007 books, perhaps doing them as period pieces.

  3. Why would US copyright law affect a BRITISH book?

    1. 17 USC 104A effectively restored the copyrights on foreign works that previously were not copyrighted in the U.S. due to a failure to meet the U.S. formalities (such as not having a copyright notice, or not having been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, or not having had its copyright renewed) or due to a lack of international treaties between the U.S. and the country of origin of the work. Copyrights on foreign works were only restored if these works were still covered by copyright or neighbouring rights in their source countries on January 1, 1996.

  4. Was Ian Fleming's work a Work for Hire, i.e. Corporate Authorship? If not, I would argue that the copyright expires on 12 August 2034. Under the Copyright Extention Act of 1998, copyright lasts the life of the author plus 70 years. Only works of corporate authorship last 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever comes first.


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