The “Sonny Bono Memorial Collection” and U.S. Copyright Terms

Posted November 7, 2017
Page spread from The Dictionary of American Slang

A Dictionary of American Slang, 1926 – One of the books in the Internet Archive’s new Sonny Bono Memorial Collection

Last month, the Internet Archive announced the launch of the “Sonny Bono Memorial Collection” — a set of digitized full-text books published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1941. The collection takes advantage of an obscure section of U.S. copyright law, section 108(h), which allows libraries and archives to reproduce, distribute, and display books that are in the last twenty years of copyright, provided that the work is neither obtainable at a reasonable price nor being commercially exploited.

The provision was included in the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extended U.S. copyright terms for works by individual authors by twenty years.  CTEA resulted in a twenty year delay in some works entering the public domain: Works that were protected by copyright at the time the CTEA passed will not enter the public domain until 2019 or later. (The legislation is also known as the Sonny Bono Act because of Bono’s support of longer copyright terms during his tenure in the House of Representatives.)

The term extension had the effect of locking away countless works that would have been eligible to enter the public domain just as the promise of digitization and online access was beginning to emerge. Section 108(h) was added as a safety-valve to help ensure that the extended copyright term did not restrict public access to commercially unavailable works, providing a limitation on copyright that allows libraries and archives to rescue these works and make them available for research, scholarship, and preservation.

While section 108(h) allows for a step in the right direction, it’s not a cure-all. Determining a work’s eligibility is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and there are a number of variables to consider. But thanks to automation, the Internet Archive plans to add thousands of volumes to the collection. Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard’s new paper gives libraries and archives guidance on how to implement section 108(h).

If your books are not eligible for inclusion in 108(h) collections, but you would like to see them freely available online, Authors Alliance can help.  Our rights reversion and termination of transfer resources provide strategies you can use to regain your rights in order to make them newly available. And together with Internet Archive, Authors Alliance can even help you to scan previously undigitized works to add them to our online collection just ask!

We hope that the Internet Archive’s leadership in implementing 108(h) inspires other libraries to create more “Last Twenty” collections and gives a second life to previously unavailable books.