One of the most complex matters they made us study in library school was copyright. Like so many matters of law in the US, it has grown and metastasized to the point where I (personally) doubt that anyone really understands it.
One of the problems in copyright law has been that US statute has extended copyright protection far beyond the original term (it was 14 years at first, as I recall). Now copyright lasts long beyond the author’s lifetime. This may be a boon to the heirs and agents of authors of enduring bestsellers, but in fact most of the books published from the 1920s to the 1940s are now out of print, but still protected. Now the Internet Archive is making a collection of these books (ironically named after Sonny Bono) available, through a loophole in the law. And more are to come.
The Internet Archive is now leveraging a little known, and perhaps never used, provision of US copyright law, Section 108h, which allows libraries to scan and make available materials published 1923 to 1941 if they are not being actively sold. Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a copyright scholar at Tulane University calls this “Library Public Domain.” She and her students helped bring the first scanned books of this era available online in a collection named for the author of the bill making this necessary: The Sonny Bono Memorial Collection. Thousands more books will be added in the near future as we automate. We hope this will encourage libraries that have been reticent to scan beyond 1923 to start mass scanning their books and other works, at least up to 1942.
I expect that this might make a lot of hard-boiled mysteries available again, for free. Good news for me.