Happy Public Domain day: for real, for the first time in 20 years!

Every year, Jennifer Jenkins and Jamie Boyle from the Duke Center for the Public Domain compile a "Public Domain Day" list (previously) that highlights the works that are not entering the public domain in America, thanks to the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which hit the pause button on Americans' ability to freely use their artistic treasures for two decades — a list that also included the notable works entering the public domain in more sensible countries of the Anglophere, like Canada and the UK, where copyright "only" lasted for 50 years after the author's death.

But this year, it's different.

This is the year that America unpauses its public domain; it's also the year that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau capitulated to Donald Trump and retroactively extended copyright on works in Canada for an extra 20 years, ripping works out of Canada's public domain, making new works based on them into illegal art (more proof that good hair and good pecs don't qualify you to be a good leader — see also: V. Putin — not even when paired with high-flying, cheap rhetoric).

Even as Canada's public domain has radically contracted, America's has, for the first, time, opened.

So this year's American Public Domain Day List is, for the first time in 20 years, not a work melancholy alternate history, but rather a celebration of works that Americans are newly given access to without restriction or payment, for free re-use and adaptation, in the spirit of such classics as Snow White, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, All You Need is Love, and more (More than 1,000 in all, summarized in this handy spreadsheet — thanks Gary!).


* Safety Last!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, featuring Harold Lloyd

* The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille

* The Pilgrim, directed by Charlie Chaplin

* Our Hospitality, directed by Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone

* The Covered Wagon, directed by James Cruze

* Scaramouche, directed by Rex Ingram


* Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Golden Lion

* Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links

* Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis

* e.e. cummings, Tulips and Chimneys

* Robert Frost, New Hampshire

* Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

* Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay

* D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo

* Bertrand and Dora Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization

* Carl Sandberg, Rootabaga Pigeons

* Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front

* P.G. Wodehouse, works including The Inimitable Jeeves and Leave it to Psmith

* Viginia Woolf, Jacob's Room


* Yes! We Have No Bananas, w.&m. Frank Silver & Irving Cohn

* Charleston, w.&m. Cecil Mack & James P. Johnson

* London Calling! (musical), by Noel Coward

* Who's Sorry Now, w. Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby, m. Ted Snyder

* 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)

* Works by Bela Bartok including the Violin Sonata No. 1 and the Violin Sonata No. 2

* Tin Roof Blues, m. Leon Roppolo, Paul Mares, George Brunies, Mel Stitzel, & Benny Pollack
(There were also compositions from 1923 by other well-known artists including Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, WC Handy, Oscar Hammerstein, Gustav Holst, Al Jolson, Jerome Kern, and John Phillip Sousa; though their most famous works were from other years.)

And as great as that list is, it's hardly a patch on the amazing works we'd be inheriting if the Sonny Bono law hadn't been passed and the 1978 law was still on the books — works whose authors fully expected them to be in the public domain as of tomorrow:


* Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

* Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

* Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August

* Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools

* James Baldwin, Another Country

* Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

* Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

* Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

* Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

* Michael Harrington, The Other America

* Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom

* J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World

* Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

* Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

* Edward Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

* Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

* Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

* Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl

* Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire, D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths


* Lawrence of Arabia

* The Longest Day

* The Manchurian Candidate

* Dr. No

* Jules and Jim

* Sanjuro

* Birdman of Alcatraz

* Mutiny on the Bounty

* Days of Wine and Roses

* How the West Was Won


* Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream), by Cindy Walker, performed by Roy Orbison

* Blowin' in the Wind, Bob Dylan

* Watermelon Man, Herbie Hancock (from his first album, Takin' Off)

* Twistin' the Night Away, Sam Cooke

* You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover and You Shook Me, Willie Dixon

* Surfin' Safari, The Beach Boys

* Songs from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Stephen Sondheim

* Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream), Cindy Walker

* Big Girls Don't Cry, Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio

* Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

* Little Boxes, Malvina Reynolds

* The Loco-Motion, Gerry Goffin and Carole King

* Soldier Boy, Luther Dixon and Florence Greenberg

And, as Jenkins and Boyle point out, the largely hidden casualty of copyright term extension is the scholarship and research published in academic journals, who paid nothing for these works, and who have locked them up for decades to come:

1962 was another exciting year for science. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. The muon neutrino subatomic particle was discovered by Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger. The "father of the Internet," J. C. R. Licklider, began discussing an "Intergalactic Computer Network," and co-authored (with Welden E. Clark) an article entitled "On-line man-computer communication." But if you want to read Licklider's 1962 article on the journal website, and you do not have a subscription or institutional access, you will encounter a paywall.

A distressing number of scientific articles from 1962 require payment, or a subscription or account. Want to download "Unconscious Mental Imagery in Art and Science" in the journal Nature? Here's the paywall—the pdf is $32. Science and JAMA 5 both charge $30 to view a single article from 1962 for 24 hours. Want to read about experiences from "The Obesity-Diabetes Clinic" in JAMA? Here's the payment page. Want to read about a report on elevations and ice thickness in "Oversnow Traverse from McMurdo to the South Pole"? If you go to Science's page to purchase digital access, you will see that you can purchase access for 1 day for $30 US—but that's not all. You also have to agree to the following restrictions and conditions: "You may view, download, and/or print the article for your personal scholarly, research, and educational use" but may not distribute or post it, and you must agree both to accept cookies and be contacted from time to time about the publisher's products. Of course, many scientists will have institutional access to these journals, but this access is not guaranteed—even institutions such as Harvard have considered canceling their subscriptions because they could no longer afford the escalating prices of major journal subscriptions.

It's remarkable to find scientific research from 1962 hidden behind publisher paywalls. Thankfully, some publishers have made older articles available in full online, so that you can read them, even though it may still be illegal to copy and distribute them. In addition, some older articles have been made available on third party websites, but this is not a stable solution for providing reliable access to science. Third party postings can be difficult to find or taken down, links can get broken, and would-be posters may be deterred by the risk of a lawsuit. Under the pre-1978 copyright term, all of this history would be free to scholars, students, and enthusiasts.

Not all scientific publishers work under this kind of copyright scheme. "Open Access" scientific publications, like those of the Public Library of Science, are under Creative Commons licenses, meaning that they can be copied freely from the day they are published.

January 1, 2019 is (finally) Public Domain Day: Works from 1923 are open to all! [Jennifer Jenkins and Jamie Boyle/Duke Center for the Public Domain]

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2019? [Jennifer Jenkins and Jamie Boyle/Duke Center for the Public Domain]