Enlarge / The copyright for the first Mickey Mouse film, Steamboat Willie, is scheduled to expire in 2024, though Disney would still hold a trademark for the Mickey Mouse brand. One guaranteed result: lots of work for lawyers. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

On January 1, 2019, every book, film, and song published in 1923 will fall out of copyright protection—something that hasn't happened in 40 years. At least, that's what will happen if Congress doesn't retrospectively change copyright law to prevent it—as Congress has done two previous times.

Until the 1970s, copyright terms only lasted for 56 years. But Congress retroactively extended the term of older works to 75 years in 1976. Then on October 27, 1998—just weeks before works from 1923 were scheduled to fall into the public domain—President Bill Clinton signed legislation retroactively extending the term of older works to 95 years, locking up works published in 1923 or later for another 20 years.

Will Congress do the same thing again this year? To find out, we talked to groups on both sides of the nation's copyright debate—to digital rights advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge and to industry groups like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. To our surprise, there seemed to be universal agreement that another copyright extension was unlikely to be on the agenda this year.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments