What do Virginia Woolf’s ‘To The Lighthouse” and the final Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the German science-fiction film ‘Metropolis’ and Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller, compositions by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller all have in common?
On January 1, 2023, they and hundreds of thousands of other U.S. copyrighted books, films, images and songs from 1927 entered the U.S. public domain. They are now free for anyone to copy, share, and build upon.
Public Domain Day means that protected works on which royalties were being collected by the authors or their heirs now revert to the public. While cause for celebration in some quarters, not everyone agrees relinquishing title to owned property is fair, especially creators’ families or foundations, which stand to lose income.
A result of entering the public domain is that works may be more readily available and for less cost. This is particularly meaningful for film adaptations and musical recordings, where the source work would have required a heft royalty payment or license to the copyright owner. It is also can useful to students who are studying a classic work, such as Huckleberry Finn.
Publishers can offer new editions of classic books, which are typically less costly than works when they were protected by copyright. Typically, however, they are not free. The Gutenberg Project offers 60,000 free e-books, many of them classics, that are no longer protected by copyright.
Sonny Without Cher
The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA, 1998) extended the term of copyright protection for subsisting copyrighted works by 20 years. Works copyrighted prior to 1978 had their terms extended from 75 years to 95 years from the date of publication.
An excellent post on the blog copyrightlately.com by Aaron Moss reports that works remain protected until the end of the calendar year. Thus, Disney’s Steamboat Willie won’t enter the public domain until January 1, 2024, even though the film is set to celebrate its 95th birthday in 2023.
Mickey’s Eyes and Ears – A Changing Landscape
Over time, Mickey’s eyes were enlarged (and pupils were added), his ears became more pronounced, and his nose was shortened. These later versions of Mickey will still be protected by copyright even after the character’s original iteration enters the public domain.
Moss provides lists of well-known works from 1927 that will enter the public domain in 2023.
Image source: copyrightlately.com