Here is one example of a million. It occurred to us the other day that it would be useful to have Robert Taft’s book A Foreign Policy for Americans (1951) in print. It is not a great book but an important one for American political history because it establishes the essential non-interventionism of the old Republican tradition. You can buy the book on bookfinder now. There are four copies available, ranging in price from $10 to $30. So putting it out is not a priority for the Mises Institute in any way, but, still, it would be nice.
Had the book been permitted to fall into public domain, this would be a no-brainer. But, alas, Robert Taft Jr. renewed the 1951 copyright on the 28th year: 1979. I’m sure he thought he was doing the right thing, but now he is dead. And where is the book? Gone from memory. And where can we find the rightful “owner” of this book? Someone is out there but finding that someone would require a great deal of searching. Or we could put our attorneys on the job and pay them an arm and a leg. And for what? We would sell a few hundred copies probably, so essentially we would be publishing at a loss anyway.
So what do we do? The same as anyone who has ever thought of this: nothing. And where stands the great book by Taft? It’s not online. It’s not in print. For all practical purposes, it is headed to the dustbin of history — all because the son made the dreadful error of protecting his father’s work. This is one case of a million, several million. It is a sad fate, but not as sad as the fate of many books being published today which have copyrights that extend 100 years.
My strong recommendation is to use the creative commons license or some other method when you publish. It is the only sure way to give your work life into the future.