I was wondering tonight if the book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis is in the public domain and has passed out of copyright. In searching, I found that his first major published work, “Spirits in bondage; a cycle of lyrics” is available as a free downloadable eBook from Project Gutenberg. The fact that none of the Narnia series are available on the Project Gutenberg site (and in fact no other works by C.S. Lewis are) leads me to believe that they remain in copyright in the U.S. (This perception is in fact true, as I found out…..read on!)

I wonder how someone goes about finding the current US copyright status of a work? The US Copyright Office has published Circular 22: How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, which seems to say (among other things) a typically lawyeresque message: Even if you search in the ways described in the document, there is no guarantee that the work in question is out of copyright. No guarantees. Such is the world of law and intellectual property.

According to the circular, you can pay the US Copyright Office $75 for each “hour or fraction of an hour consumed” in doing a requested copyright search. I think for now I’ll pass on that offer and stick to Google, as well as other free search tools I can find online…. and on paper, which in this case turns out to be the best source!

The US copyright office website has a link to the “LOCIS Search System” which opened using a free Telnet program I have installed on my computer. WikiPedia listed some free Telnet software programs for Windows, I just edited that page and added a link to the tn3270 for the Macintosh program available free from Brown University.

Using Telnet, I was able to search this system (which currently contains entries for 16,868,564 terms, which I think are different “works”) and do a search for “lion, the witch and the wardobe.” 15 entries were found, some theatrical versions, some musical, but not the copyrighted book version. For the search “chronicles of narnia” 42 results were found, but still nothing about the original work.

I think the answer to my question has a simple, analog answer. In the the inside cover of the book copy we own, it says “Copyright 1950 by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., Copyright renewed 1978 by C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd.” This means that the copyright was renewed and likely is good for another 70 years. So, people who might contemplate reading chapters from any of the Chronicles of Narnia books and publishing them as podcasts (downloadable audio books) should forget it– US law protects these work now and into the future. According to the US Copyright Office, copyrights for works by a known author are good for 70 years after the death of the author. Since Lewis died on November 22, 1963 (the same day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated), it seems that the rest of Lewis’ writings won’t pass into the public domain until 2033. I sure hope I’m still alive then! Still, that is a long time to wait to do a podcast. 🙂

The Narnia.com site has information about the copyright renewals of all the Chronicles of Narnia books. Safe to say none of these works are going to appear in Project Gutenberg anytime soon. If there are any copyright gurus out there reading this, and my calculation of November 22, 2033 is wrong for when Lewis’ works will pass into the public domain, please comment here and let us all know!

If Clive Staples Lewis was alive today, I wonder what he would say about this? I would like to think he’d want his works to pass into the public domain sooner… but I have no way of supporting this hope with evidence. Too bad Creative Commons didn’t exist when he lived and wrote!

I did locate the C.S. Lewis Foundation amidst these Internet searches, which is having a regional conference entitled “Aslan On the Move: Narnia Revisited” just outside College Station, Texas later this month. I won’t be attending. Sure would be cool if they podcasted some of the presentations!

I also found Into the Wardrobe :: a C. S. Lewis web site, which is a superb collection of resources related to C.S. Lewis. The multimedia area contains a wide variety of photos and maps of Narnia, and the papers section is also excellent. I found the article, “How Hollywood Reinvented C. S. Lewis in the Film ‘Shadowlands’ by John G. West, Jr particularly interesting. This information from the article was previously unknown to me:

Meanwhile, the Lewis who did not associate with children had three children come and stay with him during World War II (they had been sent out of London because of the air raids (just like Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

as was this one:

And the Lewis who walked through life without painful experiences had to deal with his rejection by Oxford’s academic community, which never saw fit to select this brilliant scholar for a professorship (Cambridge finally did in the 1950s).

These final three paragraphs of the article summarize the author’s complaints about the movie “Shadowlands” and his hope for those who watch it:

I tend to think that most people who view Shadowlands will overlook the underlying contempt the film displays for Lewis’s faith because Lewis is portrayed so sympathetically. And make no mistake: Despite the biographical inaccuracies mentioned above, Lewis is portrayed sympathetically. This film is not anti-Lewis. But perhaps that is because the villain in this story is not Lewis, but God.?

?The great irony of Shadowlands is that it even as it draws people closer to Lewis, it may drive them further away from the One in whom Lewis found the meaning of life. What a tragedy it would be if those who see the film come away thinking that Lewis’s earlier faith was somehow refuted by reality. Mind you, I am not claiming that this will be the result of Shadowlands. One can only speculate about the effect of the film on individual viewers, and this sort of speculation is rather dubious anyway. I can only suggest that given the film’s script that some viewers may conclude that Lewis’s defense of Christianity could not stand the scrutiny of real life.?

?There is another possibility, of course: The film may inspire those who see it to read Lewis’s writings for themselves and discover the reality of the faith to which he pointed. I hope that this second possibility will turn out to be the reality.

I will be teaching a series of three Sunday school lessons at WPC December 4, 11, and 18th this year, so these resources will come in handy. I will definitely post more on what I learn and teach about concerning C.S. Lewis in upcoming weeks, and may even podcast part or all of my presentations. That would be a significant break from my normal podcasting themes relating to educational technology, so I may publish these on our WPC podcasts feed, if I can get permission to so.

I have started a social bookmarks list for sites related to C.S. Lewis, which you can access on http://del.icio.us/wfryer/cslewis. I’ll be updating that in the weeks to come.

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