The first day of the year is exciting for many reasons, not the least because it is Public Domain Day! This day marks the annual transition of certain copyrighted works into the public domain. Today hundreds of important and exciting films, books, music, and more are now able to be freely accessed, copied, and used. Don’t recognize this beautiful celebration of creativity and our cultural heritage? Well, that may be because until a few years ago there just wasn’t much to celebrate. With the passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act, opens a new window in 1998, congress enacted a 20 year pause in works due to enter the public domain. It wasn’t until January 1, 2019, when this pause expired, that we had a noteworthy Public Domain Day.
Most works receive copyright protection for 70 years after the death of the author. If the work is owned by a corporation, it is protected for 120 years after it’s creation or for 95 years after it is published, whichever comes first. Because of these laws, this year there are a great deal of books and film from 1926 that are now in the public domain and ours to do with as we please. This includes popular books such as Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and The Land of Mist by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. However, the rules for music and sound recordings are a bit more complicated. Luckily, the Music Modernization Act, opens a new window was passed in 2018, making many musical recordings come into public domain sooner than they previously would. That makes this a particularly Public Domain Day, as all music recordings published before 1923, tens of thousands of recordings, are now in the Public Domain! Check out The Library of Congress’s National Jukebox, opens a new window to hear many of these early recordings, or see below for some of the books hitting public domain.
Note: Information provided in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.