New Year’s Day is Public Domain Day
January 1, 2012 | 6:58 pm
Happy New Year! This is the time of year when we make our New Year’s Resolutions (I think mine will be 1680 x 1050) and look forward to a brighter future. (At least until the world ends on 12/21.) But it’s also observed as Public Domain Day where, in some parts of the world, people take stock of what new works have entered the public domain.
In the US, it’s currently the day we stare wistfully through the glass of copyright, like a homeless waif staring at a storefront food display, at the works that would have entered the public domain today—because in the US, thanks to recent copyright laws, there will be no new entries to the public domain until at least 2019. (And I wouldn’t count on getting any even then, Disney being who they are.)
Under pre-1978 copyright code, all works from 1955, and as many as 85% of works from 1983 (which didn’t have copyright renewed) would be entering the public domain. The Duke Law Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a post detailing the famous works that would include,: books such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, or Why Johnny Can’t Read; movies such as The Seven Year Itch, Lady and the Tramp, or Oklahoma, songs such as Unchained Melody, Folsom Prison Blues, and Tutti Frutti. And, of course, thousands of lesser-known but still potentially useful works.
The blog post doesn’t cover works that would have entered the public domain under the post-1978, pre-Sonny Bono copyright regime. As that was a 75-year period, if I remember correctly, that would mean we’d have access to works from 1936—perhaps not as attractive as works from later years, but still better than we have now, which is not much since 1923.
I continue to cherish a faint hope that someday people will realize just how much we’re losing by extending copyright and let the pendulum swing the other day. But it may well be a forlorn one.