January 1, 2011 will be Public Domain Day

by Michael Hart on November 27, 2010

Public Domain Day 2011

Every new year since the first copyrights expired, back around 1724, the world has looked forward to the expiration of copyrights and the availability of public domain works, which have been kept under publishing monopolies.

This coming January 1, Europeans will see a nice list of great works entering the public domain as their copyright terms expire. Yet in the United States, where a landmark Supreme Court Case decided that an extended copyright term could literally last forever, a person can no longer look forward to such happenings.

Some exampes of expiring copyright in Europe this coming year:

  • Freud
  • Havelock Ellis
  • Zane Grey
  • William Butler Yeats
  • etc.

These works can now have new life breathed into them via any number of new unauthorized editions that publishers and private citizens are able create, including new articles, books, TV shows, videos, movies and all other forms of media.

Next year, many people will ask why the sudden resurgent interest in Freud, Ellis, Grey, Yeats, etc., and answers will rarely include the fact that these authors weren’t previously available due to copyright.

The media rarely refers to copyright expirations because the media believes they are dependent on extended copyrights, though it is hard to really expect that even the modern Oprah shows of this, her last season, will be of a huge interest when or if the copyright expires in 2105.

If you’re interested in getting more information, search engine efforts should net you any number of sites via a simple “public domain day” search.

You will find lists of items entering the public domain under various copyright terms in other countries, and a different set of lists of would have been available in the U.S.:

  • Waton and Crick’s original Nature article on DNA
  • Walt Disney’s original movie of Peter Pan
  • The first James Bond adventure: Casino Royale
  • The first issue of Playboy magazine

Major works by:

  • Ray Bradbury [Fahrenheit 451]
  • J.D. Salinger [Nine Stories]
  • Agatha Christie [A Pocket Full of Rye]
  • C.S. Lewis [The Silver Chair, #4 in the Narnia series]
  • James Baldwin [Go Tell It On The Mountain]
  • Leon Uris [Battle Cry]

not to mention great science fiction works by:

  • Robert Anson Heinlein
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Arthur C. Clarke

In addition, all of the first HUGO AWARD winners must be considered, even though most or all of them were out a year or two before the awards were given, in 1953.

WARNING: Any number of institutions appear to have the idea they can take credit for “Public Domain Day,” and I would be somewhat suspect of those claims as copyright expirations have been taking place on January 1, a long, long, long time before anyone started celebrating it.

However, one point most of them are making which is worth the time to pursue, is that the public has less and less in the way of public domain rights, and not just in the way of extensions that make them last longer than a modern day lifetime, but also in those rarely mentioned new forms of copyright, of items that never used to be in any manner subject to copyright, such as sports box scores.

Now, in my estimation, there isn’t any new intellectual input required to write box scores, any more than there what is needed to make a telephone book, which has been ruled not subject to copyright, so obviously things are changing now even more than they already have, to the point where it appears nearly everything will be copyrightable.

[Editors Note: Minor edits to the text have been made. Image taken from http://www.publicdomainday.org]

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September 23, 2011 at 4:50 am

Am I right in thinking that all works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain as far as Project Gutenberg is concerned? Or is it another year?

Mike Cook September 24, 2011 at 5:40 am

That’s correct regarding Project Gutenberg and the U.S.