This month, for the first time in a generation, America's public domain grew, as the 20-year freeze created by the 1998 changes to copyright law finally thawed.
The remarkable Parker Higgins (previously) is celebrating with a new zine called 1923 (this being the year whose works just entered the public domain); every month, Higgins proposes to create a "a hand-made zine (think photocopied and stapled!), highlighting a work, an artist, a genre, or a medium" of "unusual and forgotten gems" from 1923, which will be made available to just 100 subscribers (sold out!); the PDF version is yours for $1/month.
On January 1, 2019, the public domain resumed its march forward after a 20-year hiatus. Our cultural commons now includes a handful of very famous works. One of the most iconic images of the silent film era. The first book of poetry by e e cummings. A legendary novelty song that topped the charts for weeks. These well-known works got lots of well-deserved attention this month as they rose into the public domain, their copyright restrictions falling away after so many years.
But for every creation that has had the popular and commercial appeal to sustain it through nearly a century of copyright restrictions, there are hundreds (or thousands!) of interesting and unusual pieces that risk being forgotten.
If we don't engage with the public domain, we can't truly feel its value. And if we don't feel its value, we will lose it—to industry groups that benefit from lopsided policy, or to companies that would privatize our shared culture, or simply to history and irrelevance.
This zine project is a humble counterforce, picking out a few compelling and thought-provoking subjects from a massive archive. An entire year of culture is intimidating, but I hope a few hand-selected highlights will give subscribers an easy and human-scale way to feel its weight.
1923: A Monthly Zine of Public Domain Treasures [Parker Higgins/Kickstarter]
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