For the first time in 20 years, artistic works copyrighted in the U.S. will enter the public domain, opening up a trove of material published during 1923 to be freely digitized, read, and used as the basis for new works. But why is this happening now? After all, shouldn’t copyrights expire and works enter into the public domain every year? One would think so, but since the late 1970s, U.S. copyright law has been subject to a series of extensions and retroactive patches that have tied up and confused the status of copyrighted works produced during the mid-20th century. (Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has an excellent breakdown of recent copyright history here. The Atlantic also published a comprehensive article on this issue, which can be found here.) The result has been that nothing has entered the public domain since 1998. But January 1, 2019 marks a pause in the era of the shrinking public domain. If no legislative action is taken to the contrary, each year, we will now have a new set of books, recordings, movies, and other creative works to enjoy freely.
Here are some places to check out the creative works of 1923:
- Hathi Trust Digital Library – These materials from the Google Books Project have been digitized for years, but as of January 1, the full-text is now available to everyone.
- Center for the Study of Public Domain – Duke’s Public Domain Day page has some great selected highlights.
- Public Domain Review – This journal specializes in mining the public domain. Here are their international picks for this year.
Interested in finding out more about U.S. copyright law and how to determine a work’s copyright status? As part of the library’s new Scholarly Impact Department, part of my job is to help faculty work through complex copyright issues, such as what can be used in the classroom, how to retain your rights as an author, and how to apply Creative Commons licensing. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consultation. You might also try these excellent copyright resources:
- Cornell University Library Copyright Information Center – This handy reference chart is great for a quick check on copyright status.
- Digital Copyright Slider – This Flash-based slider provides copyright status for works, depending on when they were published and whether copyright was renewed.
- UI Libraries Copyright Guide – This guide provides the basics on copyright issues, such as Fair Use, seeking permissions, author rights, and licensing