We've been sort of excited to see Project Gutenberg putting up so many classic science fiction stories that have gone into the public domain. But at least one writer isn't thrilled about it — Greg Bear has been involved in a battle with Project Gutenberg over whether stories by Poul Anderson and other authors are in the public domain just because the magazines which published them originally failed to renew the copyright on the stories. Says Bear:
Why is a work that appeared in a magazine that did not file proper copyright paperwork protected by copyright law? The opinion in a major case in the US 2nd Circuit Court, Goodis v. United Artists Television, explains: ". . . "We unanimously conclude that where a magazine has purchased the right of first publication under circumstances which show that the author has no intention to donate his work to the public, copyright notice in the magazine's name is sufficient to obtain a valid copyright on behalf of the beneficial owner, the author or proprietor." The opinion goes on at length regarding the creation of copyright at the time of publication.
Update: Originally, I got the wrong end of the stick — the article I'm linking to over at Digital Reader says it's Bear's own stories that he's concerned about. But actually, it's stories by his father in law, Poul Anderson, as well as some other authors. All of Bear's own work is covered by modern copyright law. According to Bear and his wife, Astrid Anderson Bear, some of the works that have been improperly declared public domain are on the list we linked to a while back, including Fritz Leiber's The Big Time and E.E. "Doc" Smith's Triplanetary.