A Beautiful Year for Copyright!

Hello, researchers! And welcome to the bright, bold world of 2019! All around the United States, Copyright Librarians are rejoicing this amazing year! But why, might you ask?

Cover page of "Leaves From A Grass House" from Don Landing

Cover page of “Leaves From A Grass House” from Don Landing

Well, after 20 years, formally published works are entering the public domain. That’s right, the amazing, creative works of 1923 will belong to the public as a whole.

Though fascinating works like Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room are just entering the public domain Some works entered the public domain years ago. The holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”, entered the public domain because, according to Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain (2019), its copyright was not renewed after its “first 28 year term” (Paragraph 13). Though, in a fascinating turn of events, the original copyright holder “reasserted copyright based on its ownership of the film’s musical score and the short story on which the film was based” after the film became such a success. (Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, 2019, Paragraph 13).

An image of a portion of Robert Frost's poem "New Hampshire"

An image of a portion of Robert Frost’s poem “New Hampshire”

But again, why all the fuss? Don’t items enter the public domain ever year?

That answer is, shockingly, no! Though 1922 classics like Nosferatu entered the public domain in 1998, 1923’s crop of public domain works are only entering this year, making this the first time in 20 years a massive crop of works have become public, according to Verge writer Jon Porter (2018). This was the year lawmakers “extended the length of copyright from 75 years to 95, or from 50 to 70 years after the author’s death” (Porter, 2018, Paragraph 2).

Table of contents for "Tarzan and the Golden Lion"

Table of contents for “Tarzan and the Golden Lion”

What’s most tragic about this long wait time for the release of these works is that, after almost 100 years, so many of them are lost. Film has decayed, text has vanished, and music has stopped being played. We cannot know the amount of creative works lost to time, but here are a few places that can help you find public domain works from 1923!

Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has an awesome blog post with even more information about copyright law and the works now available to the public.

If you want to know what’s included in this mass public domain-ifying of so many amazing creative works book-wise, you can check out HathiTrust has released more than 53,000 readable online, for free!

Screenshot of the HathiTrust search page for items published in the year 1923.

Screenshot of the HathiTrust search page for items published in the year 1923.

Finally, the Public Domain Review has a great list of links to works now available!

Sources:

Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. (2019, Jan. 1). Public Domain Day 2019. Retrieved from https://law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2019/

Porter, Jon. (2018, December 31). After a 20 year delay, works from 1923 will finally enter the public domain tomorrow. The Verge. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/31/18162933/public-domain-day-2019-the-pilgrim-jacobs-room-charleston-copyright-expiration

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