Art and Literature News / Tolkien News

The Hobbit No Longer in the Public Domain

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According to Businessweek, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled to uphold a federal law in the case of Golan v. Holder 10-545, a decision which restored copyrights to some foreign works that were previously in the public domain. Among the creations were some Alfred Hitchcock films, hundreds of Picasso’s paintings, the music of several Russian composers, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Google Inc., as you can imagine, was unhappy about the decision. They were the main company disputing the 1994 law, stating that the reversal of these copyrights would damage their Google Books Library Project. Dissenting Justice Stephen Bryer wrote that this law was beyond the scope of congress’s power. How, he argued, will scholars, musicians, professors, and the like obtain the rights to use these works now that the copyright holder – formerly bereft of all authority in this matter – can simply decline the request? Bryer also worries that this law “does not encourage anyone to produce a single new work,” and that “By definition, it bestows monetary rewards only on owners of old works — works that have already been created and already are in the American public domain.”

On the other side of the issue were American publishing houses, movie producers, and music industry supporters, all who claimed that granting these rights to foreign works in America is the first step to gaining the same considerations for their writings, movies, and music overseas. The Obama administration agreed with the majority that it is within congress’s power to take books back out of the public domain. The law in question was upheld with a vote of 6 – 2.

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3 Comments

  1. Wow. So if we’d known this earlier, we could have made our own version of The Hobbit before Peter Jackson did?

    Also, if we’d had 450 million dollars.

    Also, if we’d had any skills.

    *sigh*. Never mind.

  2. … Wait, The Hobbit was public domain??

    (Also, I see this causing problems.)

  3. I’m confused. So what does this mean for Tolkien podcasters and the like?