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But in 1998 Congress hit a two-decade pause button and extended their copyright term for 20 years, giving works published between 19 an expanded term of 95 years.2 But now the drought is over.
How will people celebrate this trove of cultural material?
In an abundance of caution, our list above only includes works where we were actually able to track down the notice and renewal data suggesting that they are indeed still in-copyright until 2019. 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.
We’ve also compiled—to the best of our research capabilities—a fuller spreadsheet showing other renewed works from 1923. But we want to emphasize that this is only a partial collection; many more works are entering the public domain as well, but we could not find the legal minutia to confirm their copyright status. 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.
And remember, this has not happened for over 20 years. Works from 1923 were set to go into the public domain in 1999, after a 75-year copyright term.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.When Disney (of all companies) claimed that was in the public domain, a court disagreed, holding that because the initial 1923 publication was in Germany, the failure to include a copyright notice did not put the book into the US public domain. They range from the books A Wrinkle in Time and The Guns of August, to the film Lawrence of Arabia and the song Blowin’ in the Wind, and much more. 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 1990 might be entering the public domain!The 1926 publication was valid, so the book’s copyright expires after 95 years in 2022.4 (The court’s full opinion is here.) Also, while the copyrights in several Jelly Roll Morton songs lapse in 2019, his famous “King Porter Stomp” was not copyrighted until 1924 (even though it was recorded in 1923), so it is not entering the public domain until 2020. 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.
For the first time in over 20 years, on January 1, 2019, published works will enter the US public domain.1 Works from 1923 will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee.