A fun thing to do on New Year’s Day (after a good night’s rest…! 🥳😄) is to see what new stuff is now freely available in the public domain! 2019 saw the first batch of new stuff to enter the U.S. public domain in over 20 years and I’m excited to see more stuff entering the public domain in 2020. On January 1, 2020, most* works published in the U.S. in 1924 will enter the public domain.
If you are not a copyright nerd and/or public domain enthusiast, the public domain is made up of works (books, movies, music, etc.) that are not protected by copyright or other intellectual property laws and are therefore free for anyone to use or reuse. This means that you can build upon these freely available works to create new works. For example, Disney has made tons of movies based on materials in the public domain, especially fairy tales. (On the flip side, Disney has also been heavily involved in lobbying for copyright extensions to make sure that their works are protected for as long as possible.)
Lifehacker has noted a few of the highlights from 1924 that will be entering the public domain, including the Buster Keaton silent movie Sherlock Jr., George Gershwin’s musical score for Rhapsody in Blue, and Agatha Christie’s book Poirot Investigates. Here in Falvey’s Distinctive Collections, we’ve got 93 books in our catalog that will potentially be entering the public domain next year. We’ve always got a lot in our scanning queue, but we’ll make sure to get a few shorter issues of 1924 popular literature periodicals up in early January to celebrate their entry into the public domain!
*U.S. Copyright law is complicated, so you should always double-check the status of works! In particular, audio recordings are governed by an entirely separate set of copyright laws.
Bacon, Thomas. “Characters That Should Be Public Domain (If It Wasn’t For Disney).” ScreenRant. 25 August 2019.
Middleton, Theodora. “Do bad things happen when works enter the Public Domain?” Open Knowledge Foundation Blog. 8 October 2012.
Redmond, Sean. “U.S. Copyright History 1923–1964.” The New York Public Library. 31 May 2019.
“Why the Public Domain Matters.” Duke University School of Law, Center for the Study of the Public Domain. 2019.
And finally, if you’ll be in Washington, D.C., on January 30, 2020, you can attend a Public Domain Day party hosted at the American University Washington College of Law.