“Yellowknife” is now available at Amazon and Smashwords! (And because I’m participating in Smashwords’s Authors Give Back sale, for the next couple days you can get it free from Smashwords!) For anyone who’s read my story “The Wisdom Goddess Star,” this novelette is set in the same world, though with a different group of characters.
Inspector Naval is not that sort of inspector. He examines safety code violations, claims of mismanaged funds, workplace accidents. He is not a private eye, he is not a detective, he is not a genius of deductive reasoning. But Mars has scarcely any law enforcement, so when Margaret Hoehn turns up dead at an International Martian Program facility, Inspector Naval is the best the IMP can send.
Margaret Hoehn died at Yellowknife, an isolated research base mainly dedicated to studying the extraterrestrial bacteria found there. It was in the room containing this very bacteria that Hoehn was found dead from CO2 poisoning. In such a small facility, with constant surveillance footage ruling out most suspects, there’s a narrow pool of people who could’ve killed her—or maybe it was suicide, or just an accident. Regardless, Naval is still out of his depth, and he’ll have to adjust to the peculiar rhythms of life at the small, insular colony if he’s ever going to find out what really happened.
In addition to the novelette, this publication also includes an afterword by the author about how a mystery fiction class and research on Antarctica influenced the writing of the story.
My one act play Classic Cage is available in issue 3 of some scripts, their climate change-themed issue! The issue is available to read free for the next month, until June 11th, here. Here’s the synopsis:
Tara Cage is struggling to sell her next book. Publishers on Mars want another of her cheerful, optimistic Earth travelogues, the ones that made her so popular, but things have been getting bad on Earth. Climate change and economic upheaval have made Tara a lot more cynical, and sick of selling Mars a whitewashed version of her home planet. Her sister and literary agent, Michaela Cage, tries to grease the wheels with a potential publisher by getting a realtime FTL video connection between them on Mars and Tara on Earth. Unfortunately Tara’s internet connection has been screwy, making the video chat’s predictive AI patch over moments of lag with an AI version of Tara, compiled from calls made by Tara the last time she used it—which was twenty years ago. Between the upbeat, cheerful robo-Tara, and the true, jaded, bitter Tara, the publisher is getting mixed messages—though the AI seems to be making a better impression than Tara herself.
Wow it’s been a while since one of these, but here we go, “Red, Her Hand” is now available at Amazon and Smashwords! (And because I’m participating in Smashwords’s Authors Give Back sale, you can currently get it free from Smashwords!)
“Now the real power isn’t predicting the future. The real power is predicting the prophecy.”
Gailee is a poor girl living in the Predestined Empire, where prophecies, written centuries ago by cloistered prophets, dictate all law and governance. Gailee provides for her family by working as a transcriber in one of the courts that interprets these prophecies, and as a straw dealer to noble kids. Tuuqoi, one of her buyers, is a young noble fated to become a prophet soon, whose most daring transgression in life is steaming straw with Gailee. His life takes a turn for the roguish when Gailee, overcome by a sense of calling, enlists his help to fulfill her destiny and become a prophet herself.
In addition to this novelette, this publication also includes an afterword by the author about the inspirations that mixed together to make this story.
Get excited! These are the plays I write and the plays I love to read, this is why they’re great, this is why you should write them too! I wrote this a year ago, edited it a lot more recently, and I’m publishing it now! These are strange times but they won’t be the strangest, let’s go! Download the manifesto in these formats: PDF — Epub — Mobi — Docx. Or read it below:
This manifesto addresses itself to two groups of people—playwrights, and writers of science fiction and fantasy.
People who can call themselves both are its intended result.
Theatre enriches science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy enrich theatre.
Very little speculative theatre exists; very much should.
For the purpose of this manifesto, I distinguish the type of work I am calling for, “speculative theatre,” from the already existing vein of theatrical works which merely incorporate science-fictional or fantastical elements (e.g. the angels in Angels in America, the ghost in Hamlet.) As well, I use “speculative” and “science fiction and fantasy” interchangeably for convenience.
The majority of plays which utilize SFF elements do so only as an outgrowth of character, theme, plot, adapted myth, etcetera.
In a “speculative” play, as I define it, character, theme, and plot spring from the SFF world (or the SFF element, though it often implicates the entire world.) In a “speculative” play, the world extends beyond characters, story, and even author.
Both types of play create a world or redefine our own, but speculative plays use the invented world as the foundation, and then speculate, while non-speculative plays use their SFF element to point back to characters, plot, theme, or the real world.Read More »
Wow! More formerly copyrighted works released to the public domain! This year I don’t really have much of a post like I’ve done in previousyears—I ended up being pretty busy these past couple months, and couldn’t put anything together in time for today. In lieu of my own blabbing, I recommend you read the Duke CSPD’s post on Public Domain Day 2020, if you’re interested in what works are newly public domain, and what works could’ve become public domain today if copyright law weren’t so draconian.
That said, I am still releasing one of my own works to the public domain, as I have in years past. This year, that work is “ChannelCon ’30,” a novelette about “curators” who put together livestreams of public domain movies. Lindsey Xong and Amber Smith, two such curators, form the highly popular channel Amber Linz. Just like any popular curators, they go to ChannelCon, but quickly find the fans there divided into two sides engaged in an intense feud. As the Con falls into chaos, the two factions drive a wedge between Amber and Lindsey, and finding out who is behind the sabotage becomes crucial.
The original publication included an afterword, which I am also releasing to the public domain. You can download “ChannelCon ’30” in the following formats: PDF — Epub — Mobi — Docx. Read it, steal it, break it, put your name on it, whatever, happy Public Domain Day!!!
Want a more convenient way to read this comic? Want to monetarily support this comic and more things like it? Want to read some brand new, previously unpublished Francis Bass scribbles? Great! You can buy a downloadable, PDF version of L.Y.C.C. at Gumroad or Itch.io. In addition to all of L.Y.C.C., this book includes “Last Summer,” a shorter series of comics made over the summer following my graduation, as well as older proof-of-concept comics and a quick step-by-step description of my process for creating L.Y.C.C.
TEXT: I HAD MY WORKSHOP THIS WEEK.
NIKKI: I love how theatrical this is!
ELIN: It could be just me, but I didn’t expect this to be so soft.
My short play The Ones I Used to Know is now available in the inaugural issue of some scripts! I’m so happy to have been included in this project, a magazine founded on the idea that scripts have literary merit, and can be enjoyed and appreciated even in their purely textual form. I’ll refrain from going into my full rant on the importance of reading plays, but basically the core ethos of this magazine is right in line with how I feel about scripts and screenplays as textual objects, and I’m as excited to be published in it as I am to read all the other contributors’ works.
My play is a ten-minute piece about climate change and Christmas music, set in a small town in Iowa. I realize this sounds awfully similar to “Fuck You Pay Me” but 1. Yes, and 2. They are actually quite distinct, and 3. You should check it out anyway!!!
We made it! At long fucking last, we have made it out the other end, and for the first time in 50 years (with the exception of just two years, 1997 and 1998), works are entering the public domain for the US and almost every other country on Earth. As is tradition on this blog (as of a year ago), every Public Domain Day (January 1st) I write a post related to my love for the public domain, and release one of my own works to the public domain. This year, I’m writing about the first English translation of And So Ad Infinitum, and releasing Tallahassee Ca. 2045 to the public domain! Jump down to the bottom of this post if you just want to read my play, or stick around if you want to hear about insects and bad poetry!
(And if you’re unclear on why today is so special and what the heck the public domain is, you can check out my post from last year.)
Ze života hmyzu (“From Insect Life”) is a play in three acts, written by Karel Čapek in 1920. As such, the original Czech has been in the public domain for more than half a century, and can be read online here. Obscure as it is in the anglophonic world, the play has seen many adaptations and productions, from a 1996 Finnish opera to a 2018 Czech film titled Hmyz (“Insect” in English). It’s been translated into English a few times over the past century, but the earliest translation was done by Paul Selver in 1923—which means it has just entered the Public Domain as of this very day!Read More »
My short story “Fuck You Pay Me” is now available in Reckoning 3! Reckoning is a non-profit journal that publishes poems, artwork, stories, and essays about climate change and environmental justice. My writing aside, you should absolutely check them out. They do fantastic work and support a broad range of artists, and I’m thrilled to be included in this year’s issue.
As for my story, “Fuck You Pay Me” is a story about two high school seniors who will be graduating soon, facing a world severely effected by climate change, and watching their opportunities dry up before their eyes. So, using an accountability AI to calculate the dollar amount that they are owed by the world, given the damage that climate change has done to them, they decide to balance the scales of climate justice and rob a wealthy family. Other stuff happens, and it takes place around Christmas, so it’s a perfect story for the holidays!
Currently you can buy an ebook of Reckoning 3 here. If you can’t spare the seven bucks right now, everything in Reckoning will be published online over the next six months, so you’ll be able to read my story free in April 2019—and if you want a physical copy, tthose will be available in June 2019.
Just as I did last year, here are two collections of all the plays I published in the past year, and all the short stories I published in the last year. I’m now less enamored of the idea of this being a “complete works” series, for various reasons which I explain in the forewords of these anthologies. Mainly, what does “complete” even mean? Regardless, these collections really do have all the pieces I self-published while I was 20, and all the afterwords I published with them. And I will continue this series, because I like having a cheap way for people to buy my stuff—the collections just might always not be annual, or they might not always be “complete.”
20; Two plays and a monologue contains Suggest the Empire, Chimaera Cries ON STREAM!!!!!, and Tallahassee Ca. 2045—including a brands new afterword for Chimaera Cries ON STREAM!!!!!! You can get it on Smashwords or Amazon.
20; A collection of short stories contains “A Clash at Grozny Airfield,” “The Wisdom-Goddess Star,” “Beneath Them,” and “ChannelCon ’30.” You can get it on Smashwords or Amazon.
As of a month or so ago, I’ve been writing seriously for ten years, so I’m taking a moment to reflect with two posts looking back on those years. My purpose with these pieces is to escape my myopic focus on the present, and appreciate how far I’ve come. So my first post was a “cartographic description” of the past decade, trying to capture all that progress in a (relatively) short space. Today’s post will be even more contained, as I try to quantify all the progress I’ve made by adding it all up, looking at it all in sum.
So let’s look at everything superimposed on everything. Let’s look at the totals that I’ve kept meticulous records of (another sign of progress is that I’ve gotten less obsessive about constantly updating these things, and now only do it when I get around to it.)
In total, in the past ten years, I’ve written 6.5 novel-length works, none of them fully edited, one of them in the process of revision right now.
I’ve written twenty theatrical works: two full-length plays, eleven one acts, and seven short plays.
I’ve written thirty-nine short prose works: two (or four) novellas, eleven (or nine) novelettes, and twenty-six short stories. (The line between novella and novelette changes depending on who you ask.)
In all, I’ve written around 1,138,940 words of fiction. I’ve also written 144,820 words of blog posts (not counting the translations, or this post), which includes two short collections of essays. And I’ve written 64,790 words of unfinished fiction—that is, works that I didn’t even finish the first draft of, and which I do not think I will ever finish. (For this reason I counted the 0.5 of a novel in the former group, because I still intend to finish it.)
In all, I’ve received 193 rejections—mostly for short fiction, sometimes for plays. I’ve received four acceptances, one from Kzine, one from Playworks, two from fanzines (which I don’t really submit to anymore.) I also have one weird response that I don’t know how to categorize right now. We’ll see what comes of it.
I’m not exactly sure how many productions of my plays there have been. Two? I think? Plus a script-in-hand production and a student-directed one? IDK. A number that could fit on one hand in any case, all for the same play, The Trial of Adbot 579.
I’ve made $281.41 from my writing, about $210 from Adbot, and all in the past four years.
It’s interesting that the more I look at these numbers, the more I get used to them, and the more they don’t seem that impressive. My brain is somehow normalizing them, and now expects me to do better in the next decade. I mean, I probably will “do better”—write more, make more money, get more rejections—but maybe the lesson here is that these numbers are useful to glance at, but not to stare at. Unsure.
Hopefully these numbers give a good idea of the work-to-success ratio in the early years of being a writer (slightly skewed by the fact that they were also my early years of being a human.) And hopefully they provide some transparency, showing the enormous submerged section of the iceberg, rather than the tip that is so easy to focus on. I know that personally, it’s easy for me to see a writer (particularly if they’re around my age) who’s successful, and then get in my head wondering what I’m doing wrong, why I’m not as successful as them. In those situations, I find it useful to remind myself that everyone has taken a different path in writing, giving them certain skills, advantages, and areas of weakness. Weirdly, telling myself that someone else has worked harder for something than me actually makes me feel more secure about my own capabilities, and more empowered to achieve success.
And, if these numbers themselves don’t provide enough of an image of the iceberg, you can always read my first “Ten Years Writing” post, which is nothing if not a proverbial humongous, unwieldy mass of submerged ice.
I’ve been writing for ten years now, and writing about that has proven to be quite the challenge. I’ve taken several cracks at writing this post, but I think this is the way to go—this, and another much much shorter post I’ll put up next week.
The reason this is so difficult is that it’s hard to describe what ten years of writing looks like in a post. It’s difficult to reduce it into something snappy, sharp, clear, because it isn’t. But that’s exactly why I want to write this post. In the day-to-day or week-to-week of writing, it’s easy to lose track of progress. It’s easy for me to believe that I’m not getting anywhere, that I’m not getting closer to any of my goals, that the story I’m outlining right now is actually worse than the story I wrote a month ago. Because as I move forward, my goals do too. For years I was eagerly awaiting the day when I would’ve written 1,000,000 words of fiction. I obsessively kept track of the word count of everything I wrote, updating the figures to reflect the latest revisions as I made them. But by the time 1,000,000 words neared, I’d become more focused on being able to write lots of distinct short works, rather than just lots of words in general.
Likewise, my idea of when I started writing is kind of nebulous. I’ve really been writing all my life, but when asked I usually say that I started at eleven. I say that because at eleven (actually a few months before I turned eleven) I started writing the first novel that I actually completed, and eleven is the age when I started writing regularly, usually about once or twice a week. I’ve stuck with this idea, because at a certain point I just had to stick with something, and recognize that if I let myself constantly redefine when I began my r e a l w r i t i ng, I’d eventually be saying, “Now 2018, that’s when I reeeeally started writing.”
Zooming out helps me appreciate the progress that’s been made. Looking at all the fruits of my ten years of labor together, and looking at how many phases I’ve gone through, how many times I felt like I was plateauing and unable to improve my writing, when every single time I managed to get better, it helps break me out of the rut of the present. It can also be useful, in the rarer moments when I need humbling, to remember all the times I thought I pretty much understood writing, and how there was always much more to learn.
I also enjoy reading other writers describe their careers. Although everyone is different, it does provide the closest thing to a map that you can get for a writing career, which is a career without one specific Way to Do It.
So here we go. A cartographic description of the landscape of my first ten years as a writer. It’s worth noting: my first ten years coincide with my teenage years, so your mileage may vary if you’ve started writing later in life (that’s to say, you will probably do better than me, because you’ll be starting out better read than eleven-year-old me. Writing is a sport for all ages!) Also worth noting that I haven’t had to work a job in all this time, except a few part-time summer jobs, though I have been in middle and high school and college, which takes up a fair chunk of time. So factor that into your reckoning, map-readers.Read More »
Right on time for convention season, my new novelette “ChannelCon ’30” is now available on Amazon and Smashwords!
With hours and hours of old movies entering the public domain every year, in the near future curators emerge as a new kind of content creator, culling all this old material and selecting personal favorites to livestream on their channels. Lindsey Xong and Amber Smith are two such curators, Amber focusing on finding movies, and Lindsey focusing on commentary and abridgment. Together, the two form Amber Linz, an incredibly popular channel, poised to sign a major deal to to get exclusive access to old movies a year before they enter public domain. To announce this deal and to engage with the curator community, the two go to ChannelCon, the biggest, greatest curator convention in the world.
But almost instantly, it’s clear that ChannelCon is coming apart at the seams, beset by the growing division between purists (who stream content completely unedited) and cureditors (who stream abridged or even completely remixed movies.) As retaliations and acts of sabotage escalate, the two sides seek to claim either Amber or Lindsey as their own, driving a wedge between the duo and jeopardizing their deal. Finding out which side is perpetrating all the chaos is not only important for purists and cureditors—it could also be the only way to save the Amber Linz deal, and Amber Linz itself.
In addition to this novelette, this publication includes an afterword in which I discuss the real world inspiration for this story, and how little fandom and conventions have changed in the past 80 years.
Remember this post about the Parkland shooting and representation of high schoolers? The play I was talking about back then is now available, on Smashwords and Amazon.
In the year 2045, a group of politically conscious high school seniors decides to organize a youth rally—a protest to lower the minimum voting age. Just before the protest is scheduled to happen, a massive ice sheet breaks off of Antarctica, causing global flooding. The youth rally becomes a demand for radical change of climate policy, and the politics of the students are put under new pressure. Relationships between the original group of friends strain as the protest grows further and further out of control, and any hopes of changing the world look dimmer and dimmer.
Tallahassee Circa 2045 is an exploration of protest culture, shifting ideologies, and the intersection of youth and politics, set against the backdrop of global catastrophe and an ever-shifting national landscape.
Running time is approximately 120 minutes. The cast is 1M, 5F, 3NB.
In addition to the play, this publication includes an afterword (a large part of which already appeared on this blog in that MSD post) which constitutes an in-depth look at youth rights, representations of high schoolers, and the politically tumultuous period in which the play was written.
I’ve just published “Beneath Them,” a short story available on Smashwords and Amazon.
In this piece of flash fiction, without warning, thousands of alien spaceships have appeared above major urban areas around the globe, and some have descended to devastating effect. Although the aliens have expressed a lack of ill intentions, and a desire for “recreation,” no one really knows what they are doing on Earth. The only thing that is clear is their overwhelming power, and their overwhelming intelligence.
In the shadow of this invasion, life goes on as Atlanta resident Cheyenne, and her younger cousin Denise, deal with roaches in their apartment.
Also included in this publication is a brief afterword, in which I describe my own encounter with a cockroach which inspired this story.
Last week there was a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Following the shooting, many of the survivors—high schoolers—have come together to voice their outrage at the current state of gun regulation in America, spearheading a movement to pass better gun control laws, with the hope of preventing what happened to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High from ever happening to another American school. You can find out more about their cause here.
Just days before the attack, I began editing and writing the afterword for a play I wrote last year, Tallahassee Ca. 2045. In the play, a group of high school students (heavily inspired by my own very politically conscious friends from high school) organize a protest for youth rights, to lower the minimum voting age. After a global catastrophe strikes, the nature of the protest changes, and it steadily grows out of control, ultimately collapsing with little more than token reforms made. And it takes place in Tallahassee, capital of Florida. Needless to say, I wish the MSD students much better luck than the characters in my play.
So for the past week, these students, and the way people are reacting to them, and the way some people are trying to discredit them, and whether or not they’ll succeed, and the fact that most of them can’t vote, and the general perception of teenagers, have all been on my mind. I’m in Spain right now, and I so wish that I could be in my hometown of Tallahassee to protest in front of the capitol, or even just in Iowa City, where I go to school. I would love to throw my support behind these kids by physically marching with them, but I can’t. What I can do is post this.
If you can’t tell already, it’s a strange post. It’s not really about gun control, but rather about why we should listen to the kids campaigning for better gun control right now, and general misconceptions about the apoliticality of kids. My main purpose here is to provide insight into my personal understanding of young people, particularly high schoolers, re: politics—which should be a pretty solid understanding, given that I’m 20. So, here we go. The following is a segment of the Tallahassee Ca. 2045 afterword, adapted slightly for this post.
You could say that I fell in with the right crowd in high school. “Fell in” because, for the most part, I met them first as friends of friends, not through any shared extracurricular interest or from any effort on my part to meet new people. And “right crowd” not because they were straight-laced t-totalers or anything, but because they were incredible kids (and are incredible people, for that matter.) They were kids who talked about politics during lunch. Kids who talked about, and argued about, Ferguson and Santa Barbara and Syria, about Common Core and Jackie Pons and gay marriage, about dress code and rape culture and climate change. Kids who made up jingles about socialism. Kids who discussed gender and sexuality without the tied tongues of adults nor the giggles of less mature kids. Kids who participated in Model UN and Peace Jam and GSA. Kids (a few of them at least) who once went to the principal to ask that he improve the school’s nearly non-existent sex-ed. Very liberal kids all, some of whom had liberal parents and some of whom had conservative parents. Kids who were vegetarian and vegan. Kids who acted, kids who ran, kids who wrote, kids who played instruments, kids who spoke Spanish, a kid who spoke Portuguese, a kid who spoke Russian, kids who knew Latin (and who could speak it, though it’s Latin, so they mostly didn’t.) I don’t mean to give the impression that we were all just pundits or politicians—we of course did talk about other things, about teachers and homework, tattoos and vacations, books and movies, food and theatre—but these are the relevant points for this afterword.Read More »
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! My novelette, “The Wisdom-Goddess Star,” is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. It has nothing to do with love or romance, but neither does St. Valentine (possibly), so it works out. Here’s the synopsis:
Alexander Irving. First generation Martian, born to Patricia Irving and Peter Leung. Studied journalism at the newly founded University of Mars, a petri dish for “human journalism,” a new style of journalism to compete with AI reporters. Moved to Phobos upon graduation and joined the staff of The Light, the premier news organization of Mars’s largest satellite. Reported primarily on the working class of Phobos—technicians, repair crew, service workers—and always felt he was missing something. The grit of real journalism, investigative journalism, the kind which humans still do in the mud and shadows of Earth.
2 Pallas. Third most massive asteroid in the solar system, the newest acquisition of the International Martian Program. Its colonization is the first major IMP project to make use of the Per Aspera Ad Astra program, recruiting a thousand new members from working class, low income, secondary education backgrounds. Due to its highly eccentric orbit, Pallas only nears Mars once every 2 years—making it the most isolated colony in the IMP.
Pallas gives Irving the opportunity he’s looking for, to probe deep into a colony from which AI cannot harvest data, as the colony still lacks a long-range communications relay. When Irving arrives, he shortly discovers that Pallas’s isolation may be the intentional work of the local governor, and he endeavors to discover what exactly the governor wants to keep hidden from the rest of the IMP.
In addition, the publication includes an afterword in which I discuss how a school superintendent election, a dysfunctional novella, and a few English classes influenced the creation of this story.
Now that I’ve explained what an “imperialist writing policy” is, and why it might be useful, here’s how to actually do it.
Compiling Your Curriculum
So you’ve got some reason for enacting an imperialist writing policy—what do you fill it with? What are your imperial holdings? As I said, with Suggest the Empire I initially began with plays I was already aware of—Shakespearean histories. However, Stuff Happens I only learned about by doing some research, looking up contemporary history plays. After finding these materials, I just continued with my life, and kept on the look-out for any books or shows or movies or podcasts that seemed like they could be useful, adding them to my curriculum as I found them.
I’d recommend the same—start with works that you are already aware of, or that you have already been wanting to read. If you have enough, great! If you don’t, it’s time to do some research. This is essentially how I determined what plays to read for Play Time (which was a literal curriculum, since it was an Honors project.) I started by looking at some plays dealing with time which I already wanted to read—We Are Proud to Present …, Strange Interlude, Top Girls, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead—then did some research. I pretty quickly found out about J.B. Priestly’s time plays, and stumbled upon a review of a few short Beckett plays staged together because of their similar treatments of time. The internet is an incredible thing.
If this seems overwhelming, start with Wikipedia. Look at the external links on the article, look at the references. Look up what resources your local library has, or, if you’re a college student, check out your university library. Find people who are experts in whatever you need to immerse yourself in, and see what they’ve written. See what they recommend. If you personally know anyone who has some experience with the topic, ask them to give you some recommendations—or, if they’re willing to give you their time, ask them questions about the topic and make note of the answers. Sift through your personal library, see if there are any old books you forgot you even had that might be useful (this is exactly how Top Girls made it onto the list for Play Time.) And if you’re really hitting a wall, just start reading whatever you have found. More likely than not (and especially if its non-fiction) that work will lead you to other works. You’ll start to get a sense of what the foundational texts in the field are, which authors keep coming up again and again, which authors have written stuff very similar to (and therefore very useful for) what you’re planning to write.Read More »
EDIT: A previous version of this post had some slightly bad math. Basically, I said nothing had entered public domain for 50 years. That’s not quite right. In 1997 and 1998, works published in 1921 and 1922 entered public domain, respectively. Before that, the last time works entered public domain was 1977, when the copyright for works published in 1920 expired. Still, I think I’m right to call it a “half-century of starvation.” In over 50 years, we only ate twice.
Today is Public Domain Day. That effectively means nothing in the US, where for the past 49 years (basically, see above), no published works have entered the public domain. However, next year, finally, finally, this half-century of starvation will be over.
A work that is in a country’s public domain is a work that anyone can modify, sell, or incorporate into a new work, with no permission needed from anyone. There is no copyright holder for works in the public domain. Originally, US copyright law stated that a work—like a book, a painting, a piece of software, a song, etc.—had to be registered for copyright, after which point the right to copy it would rest solely with the author, for 14 years. The author could renew it for another 14 years after that, if they wanted, and then it would enter the public domain. In 1830, this law was modified so that terms were 28 years, again with the option for renewal.
A century and more later, in 1976, copyright term was dramatically increased to the life of the author plus 50 years. Additionally, the 1976 act set a term of 75 years for any work of unknown origin, or any “work for hire”—a term which would be applied to new works, and works published before 1978. A work for hire would be like a photo created by an employee as part of their job—or, it could be a movie created by a group of people (most movies are works for hire), who all sign a contract to designate the movie as a work for hire. As well, this dumpster fire piece of legislation extended the maximum copyright term of works created before 1976 from 56 years to 75 years.
This is a lot to take in, so let me break it down. Suppose I write a book in 1930, and I’m 30 years old, and I publish it that same year. I would hold the copyright through 1958, at which point I would renew it. I’m still alive after all, might as well make sure people are buying it from me and not anyone else. Then I would hold the copyright term through 1986, and it would expire on January 1st 1987. Now in 1976, I hear about this new copyright act, which allows authors to retain control of their works for as long as they live—and then grants their estates control of the work for 50 years after their death. Well, that doesn’t seem fair to me—I’ll still be alive (possibly) when my copyright expires in 1986, and I still want that money. Good news—the 1976 Copyright Act grants my work a copyright term of 75 years, meaning it will expire in 2006—when I’m 106 (or probably dead.) Hooray! I suppose this is a good scenario, but here’s what could also happen:
Suppose I write a song when I’m 30 in the year 1930, publish the song, and die instantly. Well, my estate would then get to reap the benefits of that song for 75 years. Or, maybe I don’t have an estate—maybe no rightful heir can be found, in which case, this song is stuck in limbo, with absolutely no one benefitting from it, for the better part of a century.
Suppose I write a song in 1920 and it doesn’t matter how old I am. The song remains in the public domain until January 1st 1977, the year before 1976 act goes into effect. It would be among the last batch of published works to enter the public domain, before the 50-year drought that we’re finally reaching the end of now (with the exception of 1997 and ’98.)
But whatever. That’s just some weird bit of business to try and bridge the gap between old copyright law and new copyright law. Let’s see how this would work for an artist working in 1980.
Suppose I make a movie as a work for hire in 1980. A corporation would probably be the copyright holder, and they would hold the rights to the movie for the next 75 years—or, if for some reason they waited a long time to publish it, 120 years. The 1976 act granted copyright for 120 years after creation, or 75 years after publication—whichever comes first. Potentially, a company could wait 119 years to release a movie, and then have it enter public domain the next year. Weird. Anyway, here’s how this works for an individual author:
Suppose I draw a self-portrait in 1980 and die instantly. (I think I would have to publish it too, but I’m not sure. I’ll address how unpublished works are handled in a moment.) My estate will then hold the copyright through 2030.
So this is really bad and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but hold onto your butts for right now because in 1998, the term of copyright was increased to the author’s life plus 70 years, and 95 years for works published before 1978. The term for works for hire was also increased to 95 years, or 120 years after creation (at least they didn’t extend that, I guess.)Read More »