It reminded me of when I gave a lecture at Columbia University and showed the students several of our stories—including a nearly 7,000-word piece on Barack Obama by Laurie Abraham, one of a handful of journalists to accompany the then senator on his historic trip to Kenya—and a (male) student raised his hand to offer, “I had no idea you did such important stories. How does it feel to know nobody reads them?” He meant you, dear reader, the some 8 million smart, educated, chic, interesting women who consume ELLE in print, online, and on tablets each month. — Women’s Magazines Do Serious Journalism
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[Cross posted to Medium]
Katagami is the Japanese art of making paper stencils for kimono printing. A friend recently asked me about the public domain status of these prints, which are often stunning and can date back to the 1800s or even earlier.
The rules concerning public domain (“PD”) status in the US vary from period to period, depending on what particular version of the copyright statutes apply to the work, so it can take extra legwork to ascertain pd status. This is why determining whether or not things are PD is its own subfield in copyright law!
However, it is likely that the pieces dating back to the 1800s are probably in the public domain. In Japan, copyrighted works lapse into the public domain 50 years after the death of the last surviving co-author.
So here’s a hypo: a Japanese national made a Katagami piece in 1880. That person was only 18 years old at the time. (The real author is probably older than that, but let’s skew young.) And let’s assume that person lives to a ripe old age of 100 because, after all, we’re talking about Japan. That means the author dies in the year 1962. The work goes into public domain in 2012.
In light of this, there’s a solid possibility that the work has lapsed into the public domain.
There is also a possibility that the very nature of katagami as a work might also have an impact on copyright status. Under US copyright law, a fashion company might be able to gain protection of a particular print through trademark law, but as the primary purpose of the work is functional and not artistic, it is possible that the print would not be protectable under copyright law. I’m not sufficiently familiar with this area of Japanese copyright law to say whether the utilitarian nature of katagami would preclude copyright protection, but if the law mirrors that of the US, it is a possibility.
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