National Law Journal: 'Copyright Bomb Quietly Ticking'
The reason is that the Copyright Act of 1976 gave authors a new power to recapture control of works sold early in their careers before the value became known. (Like ... say ... for instance ... just to choose a random wild example ... electronic databases started in the 1980s.) The legislative history shows that Congress wanted authors to be able to reclaim control of their creations and negotiate better royalty deals for popular works.
The implications for the objections by a group of authors, including myself, to the copyright class-action settlement approved last fall are clear. (Our appeal to the Second Circuit was filed yesterday and is viewable at http://www.muchnick.net/AppealBrief.pdf.)
First, as our brief points out, the settlement simply and summarily abandons "scientific works," whatever those are, presumably because they have no market value. Oh really? It seems to me that if a substantial number of science and medical writers from the 1980s chose to take back control of their writings -- basically the history of scientific advance during that period -- the publishers who are redistributing these works might stand to lose some profits.
Second, the settlement would, by fiat, remove the right of takeback that exists for all authors, via what we've termed the "License by Default." There's nothing subtle about it: The defendants and publishers would have an “irrevocable, worldwide, and continuing” license to electronically reproduce, distribute, display, license, sell or adapt” the works encompassed by the settlement. As our attorney Charles Chalmers convincingly argues, that is illegal.
The full text of the National Journal article is available only to subscribers at http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/index.jsp.