It’s Public Domain Day, the moment when lots of old works become free to use. It’s a biggie this year because for 20 years nothing new has been released. In 1998 Disney and other copyright holders got the State to impose copyright restrictions for an additional 20 years. The 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act is a horror. Works from 1922, including James Joyce’s Ulysses, turned copyright free in 1998 but anything published the following year was protected. But from today music, book, posters, art, films and plays published in 1923 will be free of intellectual property restrictions. Dig in. Go create.
But now the drought is over. How will people celebrate this trove of cultural material? Google Books will offer the full text of books from that year, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. The Internet Archive will add books, movies, music, and more to its online library. HathiTrust has made in its digital library. Community theaters are planning screenings of the films. Students will be free to adapt and publicly perform the music. Because these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available, where you can rediscover and enjoy them. (Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see , , and .) In addition, the expiration of copyright means that you’re free to use these materials, for education, for research, or for creative endeavors—whether it’s translating the books, making your own versions of the films, or building new music based on old classics.
* Songs by “Jelly Roll” Morton including Grandpa’s Spells, The Pearls, and Wolverine Blues (w. Benjamin F. Spikes & John C. Spikes; m. Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton)