Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The crazy copyright case of Guillaume Apollinaire



Introduction

Guillaume Apollinaire is a French author especially famous for his poetry, though the nature of his work is of little importance to this article.

In an earlier article, I brushed on copyright law which protects the copyright of creations for 50 or 70 years after the author's death, which is crazy considering the speed at which culture can be disseminated in the modern world.

Apollinaire's copyright case was probably one of the craziest and since this copyright expired only a couple of days ago on 29 September 2013, it is a very actual subject.


The story

France updated its copyright code from a protection of 50 years to a protection of 70 years and since Apollinaire died in November 1918, his creations should have entered the Public Domain (PD) on the 1st of January 1989, which followed the 70th anniversary of Apollinaire's death.

But exceptions were created for WW1 and WW2 as authorities estimated that cultural creations lost some potential of exploitation during the time of these conflicts. For this reason, the exact duration to the day of these 2 wars (14 years and 252 days in total) was added to the protection of creations.

Also, France has a special rule to extend the protection of creations by author who "died for their country" by a whopping 30 years. During WW1, Apollinaire was severely wounded to the head by a bomb at the beginning of 1916. But he didn't die from it. He recovered and went on living his life. However he died from the flu at the end of 1918 and for some obscure reason (lobbying, perhaps? or some symbolic reason), it has been alleged that his 1916 wound weakened him and played a fateful role in his death by flu.

For these reasons, Apolinnaire's creations received a total protection of 50 years + 30 years + 14 years and 252 days, which amounts to almost 95 years.


But that would be too simple

The special rules are European (for wars) and French (for people who died for their country). Therefore they don't apply to other countries. This means that in Canada where you'll find a lot of French speakers, Apollinaire's writings have become part of the PD a long time ago. And since it was part of PD in Canada, it was possible to copy Apollinaire's books to the Internet including Wikisource, the books repository of Wikipedia.

But these books, while legally possible to copy in Canada were illegal in France. From the interview of Lionel Maurel (in French language), which is the main source for this article, courts have decided to judge of websites' legality on the basis of checking whether these sites mostly address to a French audience or to the French-speaking audience of Canada, and some websites like Wikisource have decided to monitor the source of their online traffic in order to assess if the content was being used illegally (if mostly accessed from France) or legally.


Conclusion

Copyright protection is already crazy as it is, extending to 70 years after an author's death. But extra rules and laws make it a total mess that can reach more-than-crazy proportions.

I think we should really revise the Bern convention and change the laws to something like 30 years after the 1st publishing of a writing or maybe 15 years after an author's death.

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