How to Save the Classics

All the 'sphere's a twitter about some libraries dumping little-read classics in favor of more high-demand contemporary bestsellers. Julian's post on this, however, inspired me to remark that far and away the most important thing for the preservation of the classics has nothing to do with library policies and everything to do with intellectual property policy.

In a world where classic works enter the public domain, people will get them one way or another. They'll be available for free download on the internet. E-book technology will improve. Print copies will cheaply available to people who want to buy them. Whether or not these things are in local libraries sort of won't be a huge deal one way or another. Now, traditionally, copyrights have had limited durations and "classic" books, being old by definition, tend to be in the public domain and hence widely available. In a digital era, they'll be super-available. But the emerging trend of the digital era is for retroactive extensions of copyright terms meaning that nothing new will ever enter the public domain. Ever.