Spiderman should have been a public domain character by now but Disney lobbied against it
Not gonna lie, I don't care whose fault it is, I just want to see all Marvel properties and IPs controlled by one corporate entity. Doesn't have to be Disney, but if they can get it done, fine. Tired of seeing Spiderman separated from the rest like this. Better yet, actually, if I had a magic wand, I'd put all Marvel IPs into the public domain. Then I could actually enjoy every company's attempt at a cinematic universe, all in one lifetime.
That's actually a good point. Spider-Man is now a 57-year-old IP, the first Spidey comic having been published in 1962. Originally, copyright terms in the U.S. lasted for 14 years with an option to renew for a second 14-year term for a maximum possible total of 28 years. In 1831 the initial term was extended to 28 years, with the optional renewal term remaining unchanged, putting the maximum total at 42 years. Then in 1909 the renewal term was also extended to 28 years, putting the maximum possible copyright duration at 56 years (one year less than how long Spider-Man has been around). It took 119 years for copyright terms to double from the original limits set in 1790. Now, I can get that to an extent. People were living longer than they were in 1790, etc. Still, 56 years was more than enough time to profit off of ones art, music, or other IP. That would essentially last you almost your entire adult life. Write a book or song at age 25, it goes into the public domain when you're 81. Under such a law, anything published in 1963 or earlier would now be part of the public domain. Of course, that's not what happened, as the terms did not stay fixed at 28+28 years.
As IP started to get more corporate in nature as the 20th century progressed, even 56 years wasn't good enough for some, and in the last quarter of the century we started to see even greater expansion in copyright terms. You see, the Constitution says that Congress has the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries," but doesn't specify what "limited times" meant. Well, some corporations had some key IPs that were soon due to enter the public domain, and they got it in their heads that anything less than infinity could be construed as a "limited time," so they wanted to see copyright terms extended to keep those works from entering the public domain, essentially moving the goalposts. After two more copyright term extensions, one in 1976 and another in 1998, copyright terms now last for either 95 years after publication for works of "corporate authorship" (which covers most films and video games) or for the life of the author plus 70 years for works of individual authorship. This means that most works created within our lifetimes will likely not enter the public domain before we are dead. For example, Back to the Future will not enter the public domain under current law until I am 100 years old. In the Eldred v. Ashcroft, which came about in response to the 1998 copyright term extension, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that such laws were constitutional as they still defined a limited term. In other words, the letter of the law was upheld, even though the spirit of the law was not.
Steamboat Willie, and thus Mickey Mouse himself, will lapse into the public domain in 2023 under current law, as will Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs just 9 years later. Superman and Batman will do so in 1938 and 1939 respectively. The oldest Looney Tunes are due to enter the public domain soon, starting with Bosko in 2024, followed by Porky Pig in 2030, Daffy Duck in 2032, and Bugs Bunny in 2035. I fully expect Disney and Warner Bros will soon start to petition Congress for yet another copyright term extension. They'll probably get it, and at that point they might as well argue for copyright terms of 1000 years. That's still a "limited term," and it would save them from having to go back to Congress every 20-25 years to lobby for yet another copyright term extension to keep their properties from entering the public domain.
IMO, copyright terms have become a farce. The terms of the 1909 Copyright Act should have been the end of it. 56 years is more than enough time to profit off of a work. We need a new Copyright Act, one that seeks to defend the public domain against large publishers and movie studios who see copyright as a perpetual moneymaking scheme. The terms of the 1976 and 1998 acts should be repealed, bringing it back to the terms closer to the 1909 act, maybe something with a more round number like 25+25 years. To be generous, any existing works still under copyright would start off at "year zero," meaning they get the automatic 25-year first term, with the option for another 25-year term following it, though only if they were less than 25 years old at the time of the law's passage. The new law should mandate that the terms cannot be retroactively extended bunder any circumstances, and the matter should be removed from the hands of the Supreme Court through jurisdiction stripping as per Article 3, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution. Furthermore, a "use it or lose it" provision needs to be added that specifies that individual works that are out-of-print or otherwise essentially abandoned, ignored, and/or unpublished by the IP holder (assuming they still exist) should automatically enter the public domain within 10 years of the production of the final copy of the work (meaning that, for example, the Scott Pilgrim video game would enter the public domain in 2024).
The law should go back to its intended purpose, that is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," and not be a means for large corporations to continue making money into perpetuity, or for the survivors of dead authors to profit off said author's work for decades after their death.
CGP Grey had a good video on this subject as well: