By Jennifer Jenkins, Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain
January 1, 2022, is Public Domain Day: Works from 1926 are open to all, as is a cornucopia of recorded music: an estimated 400,000 sound recordings from before 1923!
On January 1, 2022, copyrighted works from 1926 will enter the US public domain, 1 where they will be free for all to copy, share, and build upon. The line-up this year is stunning. It includes books such as A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Felix Salten’s Bambi, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues, and Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope. There are scores of silent films—including titles featuring Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Greta Garbo, famous Broadway songs, and well-known jazz standards. But that’s not all. In 2022 we get a bonus: an estimated 400,000 sound recordings from before 1923 2 will be entering the public domain too!
Winnie the Pooh is now a multi-billion dollar franchise. After copyright expires over the original book, will there be a war between the Pooh brand and the public domain?
In 2022, the public domain will welcome a lot of “firsts”: the first Winnie-the-Pooh book from A. A. Milne, the first published novels from Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, the first books of poems from Langston Hughes and Dorothy Parker. What’s more, for the first time ever, thanks to a 2018 law called the Music Modernization Act, a special category of works—sound recordings—will finally begin to join other works in the public domain. On January 1 2022, the gates will open for all of the recordings that have been waiting in the wings. Decades of recordings made from the advent of sound recording technology through the end of 1922—estimated at some 400,000 works—will be open for legal reuse.
Why celebrate the public domain? When works go into the public domain, they can legally be shared, without permission or fee. That is something Winnie-the-Pooh would appreciate. Community theaters can screen the films. Youth orchestras can perform the music publicly, without paying licensing fees. Online repositories such as the Internet Archive, HathiTrust, and Google Books can make works fully available online. This helps enable access to cultural materials that might otherwise be lost to history. 1926 was a long time ago. The vast majority of works from 1926 are out of circulation. When they enter the public domain in 2022, anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available, where we can all discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them.
The public domain is also a wellspring for creativity. The whole point of copyright is to promote creativity, and the public domain plays a central role in doing so. Copyright law gives authors important rights that encourage creativity and distribution—this is a very good thing. But it also ensures that those rights last for a “limited time,” so that when they expire, works go into the public domain, where future authors can legally build on the past—reimagining the books, making them into films, adapting the songs and movies. That’s a good thing too! As explained in a New York Times editorial:
When a work enters the public domain it means the public can afford to use it freely, to give it new currency . . . [public domain works] are an essential part of every artist’s sustenance, of every person’s sustenance. 3
Just as Shakespeare’s works have given us everything from 10 Things I Hate About You and Kiss Me Kate (from The Taming of the Shrew) to West Side Story (from Romeo and Juliet), who knows what the works entering the public domain in 2022 might inspire? As with Shakespeare, the ability to freely reimagine these works may spur a range of creativity, from the serious to the whimsical, and in doing so allow the original artists’ legacies to endure.
Here is a more detailed snapshot of just a few of the books, sound recordings, movies, and musical compositions that will be in the public domain in 2022. 4 They were supposed to go into the public domain in 2002, after being copyrighted for 75 years. But before this could happen, Congress hit a 20-year pause button and extended their copyright term to 95 years. Now the wait is over. (To find more material from 1926, you can visit the Catalogue of Copyright Entries.) 5
- A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, decorations by E. H. Shepard 6
- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
- Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope (her first collection of poems)
- Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues
- T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (later adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia)
- Felix Salten, Bambi, A Life in the Woods
- Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
- Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
- Edna Ferber, Show Boat
- William Faulkner, Soldiers’ Pay (his first novel)
- Willa Cather, My Mortal Enemy
- D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent
- H. L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy
What don’t you know about the original, darker, and more interesting Bambi? Find out here. Now that Bambi is in the public domain, 2022 will bring a fresh translation of the original.
What a list! There is a lot to be excited about—beloved children’s characters, an iconic story of the “lost generation” after World War I, poetry from a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance and pioneer of the blues and jazz aesthetic, and clever verse from the “wittiest woman in America.” Note that in all of these cases, what is going into the public domain are the specific works from 1926, not the later books, movies, or translations based on the original books, or all of the other work by that author. Thus, while you will be free to use the material from the original Winnie-the-Pooh book, not every Pooh story or movie or Hemingway novel or Langston Hughes poem is entering the public domain.
In 2022, experts estimate that some 400,000 sound recordings published before 1923 will enter the public domain! They will become free for all to download, remix, or use in a soundtrack.
US copyright law treats musical compositions and sound recordings differently. A composition consists of the lyrics and music that you might see on a piece of sheet music. A sound recording is the embodiment of a particular performance of that composition, fixed on media such as vinyl records or on digital audio files. If I write a song called “Public Domain Day!” and you record it, I get the copyright over the composition and you get a separate copyright over your recording of my song. 7
While US copyright law has covered compositions since 1831, it did not add the sound recording right until Feburary 15, 1972. The new right only covered recordings made from that date onward, leaving recordings made before 1972 subject to a confusing patchwork of state laws, with nothing becoming public domain until 2067. 8 The 2018 “Music Modernization Act” brought all of those pre-1972 recordings under federal law and set a timeline for older recordings to gradually enter the public domain. 9
The first big date was January 1, 2022, when a trove of recordings finally goes into the public domain. (The underlying compositions are already in the public domain because their copyright terms expired earlier—all songs published in 1926 and earlier are public domain.) Yes, these recordings are a century or more old, but better late than never!
What will we celebrate in 2022? Everything from experiments with nascent sound recording technology in the late 1800s to opera, classical music, early blues and jazz, vaudeville, ragtime, popular songs, and comedy sketches. With so many recordings to choose from, we can only feature a few of them here. To listen to more recordings, check out the selections from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections and go to the Library of Congress National Jukebox—in 2022 the Library of Congress will make all of the pre-1923 recordings in its collection available for download from this site, while recordings from 1923 forward will be streaming-only until they are in the public domain. As you look through the following list, note that only the pre-1923 recordings made by these artists are entering the public domain, not their later recordings.
Sound Recordings Entering the Public Domain
- Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds, Crazy Blues, Don’t Care Blues, That Thing Called Love, and You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down (Perry Bradford)
- Ethel Waters, Down Home Blues (Tom Delaney) and There’ll Be Some Changes Made (Benton Overstreet, Billy Higgins)
- Sophie Tucker, Some of These Days (Shelton Brooks) and Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down (Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar)
- Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartets, Jelly Roll Blues (Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton)
- Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (see story) (Traditional African-American spiritual song)
- Vess L. Ossman, Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
- Bert Williams, Nobody and Let It Alone (Bert Williams, Alex Rogers), and Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar (Ed Rose, Billy Baskette, Lew Pollack)
- Billy Murray, Give My Regards to Broadway and The Grand Old Rag (Flag) (George M. Cohan), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (Irving Berlin)
- Harry Lauder, Roamin’ in the Gloamin’ (Harry Lauder)
- Enrico Caruso performances from operas such as Rigoletto and La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi), La Bohème (Giacomo Puccini), and Pagliacci (Ruggero Leoncavallo); songs such as Over There (George M. Cohan, French lyrics Louis Delamarre) and O Sole Mio (Neapolitan folk song)
- Pablo Casals, Bourée (Johann Sebastian Bach) and Dream of Love (Liebestraum) (Franz Liszt)
- Sergei Rachmaninoff, Liebesleid (Fritz Kreisler; arr. Rachmaninoff)
- Orquesta Max Dolin, La Golondrina (Narciso Serradell Sevilla)
- Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, Ory’s Creole Trombone (Edward ‘Kid’ Ory)
- Europe’s Society Orchestra, Too Much Mustard (Cecil Macklin)
- The Sousa Band, The Star-Spangled Banner (John Stafford Smith, Francis Scott Key, arr. John Philip Sousa), Semper Fidelis and multiple other marches by John Philip Sousa
- Jules Levy, The Tale of the Bumble Bee (Gustav Luders, Frank Pixley)
- Anna Chandler, She’s Good Enough To Be Your Baby’s Mother (and She’s Good Enough To Vote With You) (Herman Paley, Alfred Bryan)
- Fanny Brice, My Man (Maurice Yvain, Jacques-Charles, Albert Willemetz, English lyrics Channing Pollock) and Second Hand Rose (Grant Clarke, James F. Hanley)
- Marion Harris, I Ain’t Got Nobody (Roger A. Graham, Spencer Williams)
- Nora Bayes, How You Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm? (Joe Young, Sam M. Lewis, Walter Donaldson)
- Al Jolson, Swanee (George Gershwin, B.G. De Sylva, Irving Caesar)
- John Steel, A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody (Irving Berlin)
- Joe Schenck and Gus Van, Carolina in the Morning (Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn)
- Peerless Quartet, Cows May Come, and Cows May Go, but the Bull Goes On Forever (Harry Von Tilzer, Vincent Bryan)
These recordings reintroduce us to some legendary figures. There are incredible artists such as Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters, who paved the way for generations to follow, and in Waters’ case became a proud icon for the LGBTQ community. You can hear the first tracks from legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso, or the transcendent cellist Pablo Casals. Even on a scratchy recording from over 100 years ago, the magic comes through with all of these artists. There are recordings by Fanny Brice, the real-life Funny Girl portrayed by Barbra Streisand. There is the multi-talented Sophie Tucker, called “the last of the red-hot mamas.” Bert Williams was the first Black artist to break through the color barrier and star in a leading role on Broadway. Kid Ory recorded the first commercially-released tracks by a New Orleans African-American jazz band. You can hear Europe’s Society Orchestra, the first African-American orchestra to have their work recorded, and Cuban-born conductor Max Dolin directing his orchestra for “La Golondrina.”
For us, these recordings provide an aural time capsule, a way of capturing fragments of the past. You can browse pop stars from Billy Murray to Harry Lauder, or hear John Phillip Sousa’s marches. But you also get a glimpse of the politics of the time. Some of our favorites include songs about women’s suffrage (“She’s Good Enough to Be Your Baby’s Mother (and She’s Good Enough to Vote With You)”) and comic laments about Prohibition such as Bert Williams’ “Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar.”
Rediscovering the incredible early recordings by African-American artists is also an occasion for more somber reflection. They were recording at a time of legally-enforced segregation and the shameful tradition of minstrel shows. 10 Many of the songs from the era contain racist language and demeaning and misleading stereotypes. There was also rampant exploitation of Black talent: Black musicians were routinely excluded from copyright’s benefits and denied both recognition and compensation for their work. The artists featured above were unusual in that they gained some recognition for their contributions in the face of a colossally unfair system, but this does not mean that they were treated fairly. Discrimination, lopsided contracts, and an exclusionary music business deprived many of these artists of the compensation their work so richly deserved. 11
Movies Entering the Public Domain
- For Heaven’s Sake (starring Harold Lloyd)
- Battling Butler (starring Buster Keaton) 12
- The Son of the Sheik (starring Rudolph Valentino)
- The Temptress (starring Greta Garbo)
- Moana (docufiction filmed in Samoa)
- Faust (German expressionist classic)
- So This Is Paris (based on the play Le Réveillon)
- Don Juan (first feature-length film to use the Vitaphone sound system)
- The Cohens and Kellys (prevailed in a famous copyright lawsuit)
- The Winning of Barbara Worth (a Western, known for its flood scene)
The first four films on the list include performances by the great Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and Greta Garbo. Moana is a work of docufiction filmed in Samoa by Robert J. Flaherty, who made the famous 1922 film Nanook of the North. Copyright buffs will remember The Cohens and Kellys from the famous copyright case Nichols v. Universal, in which Judge Learned Hand said (among other things) that stock characters are not copyrightable. Faust is a German expressionist take on the eponymous play by Goethe. Because Goethe’s play was in the public domain, the filmmakers were free to reimagine it. And that borrowing went in more than one direction. On the right, you can see one of the scenes in Faust, which inspired the strikingly similar “Night on Bald Mountain” scene from Disney’s Fantasia.
Every piece of recorded music is covered by two distinct copyrights, one over the original composition—the words and music—and the second over the actual recording of the song. Earlier we listed sound recordings from before 1923 entering the public domain. Here are some of the compositions from 1926 that will be joining them.
- Bye Bye Black Bird (Ray Henderson, Mort Dixon)
- Snag It (Joseph ‘King’ Oliver)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Irving Berlin)
- Black Bottom Stomp (Ferd ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton)
- Someone To Watch Over Me (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin)
- Nessun Dorma from Turandot (Giacomo Puccini, Franco Alfano, Giusseppe Adami, Renato Simoni)
- Are You Lonesome To-Night (Roy Turk, Lou Handman)
- When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along (Harry Woods)
- Ke Kali Nei Au (“Waiting For Thee”) (Charles E. King), in 1958 renamed Hawaiian Wedding Song with new lyrics (English) by Hoffman & Manning
- Cossack Love Song (Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, George Gershwin, Herbert Stothart)
The Tip of the (Melting) Iceberg
Many of the works featured above are famous; that is why we included them. Their copyright holders benefitted from 20 more years of copyright because the works had enduring popularity and were still earning royalties. But when Congress extended the copyright term for works like The Sun Also Rises, it also did so for all of the works whose commercial viability had long subsided. For the vast majority—probably 99%—of works from 1926, no copyright holder financially benefited from continued copyright. Yet they remained off limits, for no good reason. (A Congressional Research Service report indicated that only around 2% of copyrights between 55 and 75 years old retain commercial value. After 75 years, that percentage is even lower. Most older works are “orphan works,” where the copyright owner cannot be found at all.)
Now that these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available to the public. This enables access to our cultural heritage—access to materials that might otherwise be forgotten. As mentioned earlier, 1926 was a long time ago and the majority of works from that year are out of circulation. When they enter the public domain in 2022, anyone can republish or post them online. (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 here, here, and here.) The works listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more works are waiting to be rediscovered.
Unfortunately, part of this iceberg has already melted. The fact that works from 1926 are legally available does not mean they are actually available. After 95 years, many of these works are already lost or literally disintegrating (as with old films and recordings 13 ), evidence of what long copyright terms do to the conservation of cultural artifacts. One of the films from 1926 we considered featuring was The Great Gatsby, an adaptation of the 1925 novel. But that film has reportedly been lost to history. 14 For the material that has survived, however, the long-awaited entry into the public domain is still something to celebrate.
Another part of the iceberg includes works from 1926 and later that may already be in the public domain because the copyright owners did not comply with the “formalities” that used to be necessary for copyright protection. 15 Back then, your work went into the public domain if you did not include a copyright notice—e.g. “Copyright 1926 Ernest Hemingway”—when publishing it, or if you did not renew the copyright after 28 years. Current copyright law no longer has these requirements. But, even though those works might technically be in the public domain, as a practical matter the public often has to assume they’re still copyrighted (or risk a lawsuit) because the relevant copyright information is difficult to find—older records can be fragmentary, confused, or lost. That’s why Public Domain Day is so significant. On January 1, 2022, the public will know that works published in 1926 are free for use without tedious or inconclusive research.
In an abundance of caution, our lists of works form 1926 include only works where we were able to track down the renewal data indicating that they are still in-copyright through the end of 2021, and affirmatively entering the public domain in 2022. However, there were many exciting works from 1926 for which we could not locate renewals. They will also be in the public domain in 2022 but may have entered the public domain decades ago due to lack of renewal.
So . . . No One Would Be Silly Enough to Keep Extending Copyright, Right?
Wrong! Despite overwhelming evidence that term extension does more harm than good, countries are still extending their copyrights. The public domain remains under threat. This makes an understanding of its vital contributions—to creativity, access, education, history—all the more important.
The verdict is in: adding an extra 20 years to the US copyright term was a “big mistake.” This is not a quote from someone who is equivocal about copyright; it is a quote from the former head of our Copyright Office. Indeed, there is a consensus among policymakers, economists, and academics that lengthy copyright extensions impose costs that far outweigh their benefits. Why? The benefits are minuscule—economists (including five Nobel laureates) have shown that term extension does not spur additional creativity. At the same time, it causes enormous harm, locking away millions of older works that are no longer generating any revenue for the copyright holders. Films are literally disintegrating because preservationists can’t digitize them. The works of historians and journalists are incomplete. Artists find their cultural heritage off limits. (See studies like the Hargreaves Review commissioned by the UK government, empirical comparisons of the availability of copyrighted works and public domain works and economic studies of the effects of copyright (other articles are here and here).)
Yet, incredibly, countries are lengthening their copyright terms—not as a result of reasoned debate, but to comply with trade deals that require harmonization of copyright terms. With harmonization, there is a catch: countries are always made to harmonize with the longer term, never the shorter term, even if the shorter term is a better choice for both economic and policy reasons. At the moment, because of such trade agreements, Canada and New Zealand have both agreed to extend their copyright terms from an already long life-plus-50 to a longer life-plus-70 years, even though the Canadian term extension would “cost Canadian education millions of dollars and would delay works entering the public domain for an entire generation” and the New Zealand extension “would cost around $55m [NZ dollars] annually” without “any compelling evidence that it would provide a public benefit.” 16 This is irrational. It would be more efficient to simply levy a new tax on the public and give the proceeds to the small percentage of copyright holders whose works are still making money after a life-plus-50 term. The term extensions not only transfer wealth to a tiny subset of rights owners, but also threaten to lock away the remaining works from future creators and the public.
What Could Have Been
Works from 1926 are finally entering the public domain, after a 95-year copyright term. However, under the laws that were in effect until 1978, thousands of works from 1965 would be entering the public domain this year. In fact, since copyright used to come in renewable terms of 28 years, and 85% of authors did not renew, 85% of the works from 1993 might be entering the public domain! Imagine what the great libraries of the world—or just internet hobbyists—could do: digitizing those holdings, making them available for education and research, for pleasure and for creative reuse. Under current copyright terms we will have to wait until 2061.
Want to learn more about the public domain? Here is the legal background on how we got our current copyright terms (including summaries of recent court cases), why the public domain matters, and answers to Frequently Asked Questions. You can also read James Boyle’s book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008)—naturally, you can read the full text of The Public Domain online at no cost and you are free to copy and redistribute it for non-commercial purposes. You can also read “In Ambiguous Battle: The Promise (and Pathos) of Public Domain Day,” an article by Center Director Jennifer Jenkins revealing the promise and the limits of various attempts to reverse the erosion of the public domain, and a short article in the Huffington Post, both referring to a previous Public Domain Day.
1 Only works from 1926 that were published with the authorization of the author are entering the public domain. Copyright law used to treat “published” and “unpublished” works differently. In 2019, published works entered the US public domain for the first time since 1998. However, in the interim, a small subset of works—unpublished works that were not registered with the Copyright Office before 1978—had been entering the public domain after a life plus 70 copyright term, while other unpublished works whose authors died more recently have remained under copyright. In 2022, unpublished works from authors who died in 1951 will go into the public domain. But, because these works were never published, potential users are much less likely to encounter them. In addition, it is difficult to determine whether works were “published” for copyright purposes. Therefore, this site focuses on the thousands of published works that are finally entering the public domain. Please note that unpublished works that were properly registered with the Copyright Office in 1926 are also entering the public domain after a 20 year wait—for those works, copyright was secured on the date of registration.
The copyright term for older works is different in other countries. In the EU, works from authors who died in 1951—including Mohammad-Taqi Bahar, Jorgen Bentzon, Johanna C.H. “Nelly” Bodenheim, Mikhail Markovich Borodin, James Bridie, Amy Carmichael, John Alden Carpenter, Rafael Altamira Crevea, Dorothy Dix, Eddy Duchin, John Erskine, Max Ettinger, Robert Flaherty, Andre Gide, Cecil Gray ,Maria Grever, René Guénon, Jacinto Guerrero, James Norman Hall, Fumiko Hayashi, William Randolph Hearst, Sadiq Hidajat, Josef Hüttel, Jens Jansen, Robert Kahn, Václav Kálik, Alfrēds Kalniņš, Serge Koussevitzky, Harry Sinclair Lewis, J. C. Leyendecker, Tom MacInnes, Kathleen Lockhart Manning, Resurreccion Maria de Azkue, Nellie McClung, Ivor Novello, Athos Palma, Selim Palmgren, Andrei P. Platonov, Paula von Preradović, Sigmund Romberg, Harold Ross, Artur Schnabel, Arnold Schoenberg, Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze, John French Sloan, Raden Mas Noto Soeroto, Rabanindranath Tagore, Vsevolod Vishnevsky, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—will go into the public domain in 2022 after a life-plus-70 year term. In Canada, works of authors who died in 1971—including Diane Arbus, Louis Armstrong, Leah Baird, Josef Berg, Hugo Black, Margaret Bourke-White, Emma Lucy Braun, E. Simms Campbell, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Munier Choudhury, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, King Curtis (stage name of Curtis Ousley), August Derleth, Marcel Dupré, Lloyd Hall, John Marshall Harlan II, Raoul Hausmann, Ub Iwerks, Rockwell Kent, Marian Viktorovich Koval, George Lukács, Guru Prasad Mainali, Jim Morrison, Ogden Nash, Reinhold Niebuhr, Bola de Nieve (stage name of Ignacio Jacinto Villa Fernández), Jalkishan Dayabhal Pancal, Irene Rice Pereira, Ellery Queen (pseud. of Manfred Bonnington), John Charles Walsham Reith, William David Ross, Naoya Shiga, Stevie Smith, Max Steiner, Igor Stravinsky, Shunryu Suzuki, and Bill W. (AA co-founder)—will enter the public domain after a life-plus-50 year term because they have not yet lengthened their term.
2 This estimate comes from experts on early recordings at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections: Tim Brooks, David Seubert and Sam Brylawski, “based in part on an analysis of the pre-1923 contents of the Discography of American Historical Recordings.” Their website on pre-1923 sound recordings is here.
4 There are also other creative works entering the public domain, including drawings, paintings, and photography. We have not listed them here because it was more difficult to track down complete copyright information for them.
5 The 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act gave works published from 1923 through 1977 a 95-year term. They enter the public domain on January 1 after the conclusion of the 95th year, so as of 2022, works from 1926 and before are in the public domain. Works published through 1977 had to meet certain requirements to be eligible for the 95-year term—they all had to be published with a copyright notice, and works from before 1964 also had to have their copyrights renewed after the initial 28-year term. Foreign works from 1926 were still copyrighted in the US until 2022 if 1) they complied with US notice and renewal formalities, 2) they were published in the US within 30 days of publication abroad, or 3) if neither of these are true, they were still copyrighted in their home country as of 1/1/96.
6 In 2022, the public domain will welcome the first Winnie-the-Pooh book, including the great original illustrations by E. H. Shepard. Not all of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories or films will be in the public domain, just the 1926 book—for later Pooh stories to enter the public domain, you will have to wait a few more years. The 1926 book features the original iterations of Winnie-the-Pooh and some of his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, including Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Christopher Robin. However, Tigger was not introduced until 1928 in The House at Pooh Corner and that book does not enter the public domain until 2024.
7 Sometimes a composition or song is in the public domain but the sound recording is still copyrighted—even though the song Yes, We Have No Bananas is in the public domain, a later recording of that song could still be copyrighted. You are free to copy, perform, record, or adapt the underlying song, but may need permission to use a specific recording of it. Sound recording rights are more limited than composition rights—you can legally imitate a sound recording, even if your imitation sounds exactly the same, you just cannot copy from the actual recording.
8 A series of lawsuits confirmed that these state laws were of indefinite duration, scope, and validity.
9 Here is the timeline for recordings entering the public domain:
Recordings first published before 1923 –> January 1, 2022
[One-year pause in 2023]
Recordings first published between 1923–1946 –> January 2024–2047 (after a 100-year term)
[Ten-year pause from 2048–2058]
Recordings first published between 1947–1956 –> January 2058–2067 (after a 110-year term)
All remaining recordings first fixed from 1957 until February 15, 1972 –> the term for all of these “shall end on February 15, 2067”
Note that many sites say that sound recordings from 1923 enter the public domain in 2023—adding 100 years to the date of publication—but they actually go into the public domain on January 1 of the subsequent year, so that’s why sound recordings from 1923 are public domain in 2024. In addition, note that the term of protection for sound recordings in other countries is different from the one in the US: in the EU it is 70 years, and elsewhere it is 50 years.
10 Beginning in the 1920s there was also a market-based segregation that took the form of so-called “race records”—subsidiary imprints that isolated Black music from mainstream popular music.
11 To learn more about the unequal treatment of Black artists, you can read the excellent scholarship of Professor Kevin J. Greene, including Copyright, Culture & (and) Black Music: A Legacy of Unequal Protection and “Copynorms,” Black Cultural Production, and the Debate over African-American Reparations; Professor Olufunmilayo Arewa, including From J.C. Bach to Hip Hop: Musical Borrowing, Copyright and Cultural Context, Blues Lives: Promise and Perils of Musical Copyright and Writing Rights: Copyright’s Visual Bias and African American Music; and Professor Lateef Mtima, including Intellectual Property, Entrepreneurship and Social Justice: From Swords to Ploughshares.
12 Another famous Buster Keaton film from 1926, The General, is not on this list because its copyright apparently was not renewed after the first 28-year term, meaning it entered the public domain in 1954.
13 Many silent films were intentionally destroyed by the studios because they no longer had apparent value. Other older films have disintegrated while preservationists waited for them to enter the public domain, so that they could legally digitize them. (There is a narrow provision allowing some restorations, but it is extremely limited.) The Librarian of Congress estimates that more than 80% of films from the 1920s has already decayed beyond repair. Endangered film footage includes not only studio productions, but also works of historical value, such as newsreels, anthropological and regional films, rare footage documenting daily life for ethnic minorities, and advertising and corporate shorts. (For more information see here.) Like old films, old sound recordings also deteriorate. This makes their entry into the public domain an extra cause for celebration because it will allow anyone to preserve them.
14 See Wheeler Winston Dixon, “The Three Film Versions of The Great Gatsby: A Vision Deferred,” Literature Film Quarterly (2003). Sadly, however, one of the filmic versions of the novel has been lost to us forever; and in many respects, it seems that this first version, made in 1926, might have been the most authentic adaptation the novel received.
15 Millions of books published from 1926–1963 are actually in the public domain because the copyright owners did not renew the rights. Efforts have been underway to unlock this “secret” public domain, but compiling a definitive list of those titles is a daunting task. The relevant registration and renewal information is in the 450,000-page Catalog of Copyright Entries (“CCE”). Currently there is no way to reliably search the entire CCE, but thankfully, the New York Public Library is in the midst of converting the CCE into a machine-searchable format. Even after this is complete, however, confirming that works without apparent renewals are in the public domain involves additional complexities. As of September 2019, the HathiTrust Copyright Review Program had completed this process with 506,989 US publications, and determined that 302,915 (59.7%) are in the public domain, and can therefore be made available online. The work of the New York Public Library, HathiTrust, and other groups continues, with the goal of opening these public domain books to the public.
16 These quotes are from Professor Michael Geist and Michael Wolfe, respectively. At the time of writing, the Canadian term extension is poised to go forward as part of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement unless it gets stopped by an unrelated trade dispute. New Zealand’s term extension is a concession to the UK in a newer trade agreement.
Written by Jennifer Jenkins. Special thanks to our tireless and talented research maven and website guru Balfour Smith for building this site and compiling the list of works from 1926.
Article source: Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University