As 70th anniversary is marked, Czech author’s works now in public domain


The noted Czech author Karel Čapek is perhaps best known for coining the term “robot” in his 1921 play “Rossum’s Universal Robots”. Now, as Czechs mark seventy years since his death, Karel Čapek’s works are also shifting into the public domain.

Photo: CTK
On Christmas Day, several hundred Czechs assembled at the grave of author Karel Čapek situated in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery to mark the seventieth anniversary of the death of one of the most noted authors of the twentieth century. The author’s death is marked annually at this site – something that the Brothers Čapek Society has seen to since 1947 - but the special anniversary meant that this year, the commemorations received more attention.

Also of particular note this year was the fact that as of January 2009, Čapek’s works will shift into the public domain. Copyright law protects author’s works for their lifetimes, plus fifty or seventy years after their deaths depending on the statute adopted. In this case, the seventy year limit is set to expire, meaning that the author’s works can now be reproduced and published by anyone, albeit with some restrictions designed to prevent the diminution or misrepresentation of Čapek’s works. Several works co-written with brother Josef, who died in 1945, such as “Insect Play” or “Nine Fairytales” will continue to be protected.

Tomáš Halík at K. Čapek's commemorations, photo: CTK
Attending to commemorations on Christmas Day were a number of notable figures including the theologian Tomáš Halík and Profesor František Černý, an expert on the history of theatre who compared Čapek to Czechoslovakia’s first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Meanwhile, Tomáš Halík emphasised that the author’s works remained as topical today as when they were written. Karel Čapek died shortly after the notorious Munich Agreement ceded significant Czech territory to Nazi Germany. He had previously been labelled as a public enemy by the Gestapo for his opposition to Nazism, a key theme in many of his works.