Today is Public Domain Day 2019, which means (finally!) the end of copyright for works first published in the U.S. in 1923. You are now free to use, reprint, quote, remix, or create your own derivative works from 1923 works without permission from or payment to the copyright holders, who would be the descendants or estates of the long-dead creators.
Specific works from a wide range of authors entered the public domain today, including Robert Frost, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kahlil Gibran, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, Ernest Hemingway, Sigmund Freud, Willa Cather, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Rudyard Kipling, e.e. cummings, E.M. Forster, Zane Grey, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many others.
The full texts of the 1923 books that have already been scanned by the Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and Google Books will be made publicly available on their websites, and I’m sure many more 1923 works will soon be scanned by these and other institutions. And every January 1st the public domain will gain another year’s treasures, which will be especially important to authors, scholars, artists, and researchers.
For decades, only works published in the U.S. through 1922 have been in the public domain, as Congress repeatedly and retroactively extended the length of copyright terms. Most works published between 1923 and 1977 currently have copyright protection for 95 years, so 1923 works enter the public domain on the first day of 2019, 1924 works on the first day of 2020, and so on. (So F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, first published in 1925, won’t enter the public domain for another two years.) However, books published today don’t enter the public domain until 70 years after the death of the author. It’s all ridiculously complicated, so see this chart of Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States from Cornell University for details and exceptions.
Here are some recommended links for more information and lists of some of the 1923 works that entered the public domain today:
- The Public Domain Day 2019 website from Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain and their spreadsheet of over a thousand 1923 items they’ve researched, including literary works, musical works, artistic works, movies, and more.
- My friend Glenn Fleishman’s article in Smithsonian magazine.
- My friend Cory Doctorow’s blog post for BoingBoing.
- Alexandra Alter’s article for the New York Times.
- John Mark Ockerbloom’s Public Domain Day advent calendar.
- The Hathi Trust’s collection of over 40,000 scanned 1923 works which will change to full-text access when they enter the public domain.