When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, a lot more happened than simply fireworks and staying up late. Along with the dropping of balloons came the release of all copyrighted works first published in the United States in 1923. The public domain has been frozen in time these last 20 years, and suddenly we’ve had an epic thaw. This release on what is informally known as “Public Domain Day” is set to have a huge impact on our culture and creativity.
So, why has there been a bizarre 20 years since the copyright expired on works published in 1922 and the expiration of works published in 1923?
You can blame Mickey Mouse. At the urging of Disney and others, Congress passed in 1998 the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which added 20 years to the standard copyright term of 75 years. Thus, this recent release of copyrighted work from 1923 is the first release in 20 years, and the first of its kind in the digital age since the last release in 1998, a time which predates Google.
What this means is that the Internet Archive, Google Books and HathiTrust will now make tens of thousands of books digitally available from 1923, with more to follow. They and others will also add new content to newspapers, magazines, movies and other materials. Going forward now, every January 1st will reveal long-overlooked works from the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, World War II and beyond. The newly released works will potentially change our understanding of these years.
Sample works from 1923 that have now been released?
- “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
- “The Vanishing American” in Ladies Home Journal by Zane Grey (one of the first literary critiques of the treatment of Native Americans)
- The World Crisis by Winston Churchill
- A Handbook of Cookery for a Small House by Jessie Conrad (a peek into the life of author Joseph Conrad via his wife’s recipe collection)
- The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson (the first drama by an African-American author produced on Broadway
Fleishman, G. (2019, January). For the first time in more than 20 years, copyrighted works will enter the public domain. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/first-time-20-years-copyrighted-works-enter-public-domain-180971016/
Holmes, H. (2018, December 31). 2019 will gift us with a huge release of copyrighted works entering the public domain. Retrieved from https://observer.com/2018/12/2019-copyright-works-entering-public-domain/