2019 marks an important year not only for the development of artificial intelligence – often touted as the year of the automated vehicle – but also the year of a copyright landmark. As of January 1, 2019 the Copyright Extension Act of 1998, which had extended the deadline for copyright protection by decades will now see some of the first word returning back to the public domain. One of the most important facets of copyright law is the returning of work to the public domain. The objective of any copyright law is to ensure protection and exploitation of a particular intellectual work – among which includes literary, dramatic, artistic, musical, or visual works – all of which may be used by the author to the extent of the law.
However, once the terms comes to a close the work returns to the public domain. The idea is that a work that has served the author, socially, morally, and economically should now go back to contributing to society, so as to allow other individuals to benefit from that work.
Interestingly, the reopening of the public domain will have a far greater significance today than it would have had back 20 years ago because of an additional player – artificial intelligence (AI). The last few years has seen a massive explosion in the AI field, with several hundred libraries becoming openly available for training computers to understand information. With the opening of the public domain, developers of AI can now utilise the information that has newly become available to develop and improve existing AI models. While there has been fair use exceptions in the fields of education and research, accessing this information is not something that is necessarily easy. By returning to the public domain not only would it go a long way and benefiting society directly, by giving people access to the work without any restriction, but it would also go a long way in providing indirect benefits that only time will tell as to how they will manifest.
In pursuance of the reopening of the public domain, the Internet Archive and Creative Commons is having a conference on January 25, 2019 to mark the same.