Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Expanding Public Domain

On January 1, many U.S. works originally published in 1923 entered the public domain, making them freely available for use, copying, and modification. Duke Law's Center for the Study of the Public Domain provides a sample of the newly-available titles in film, literature, and music, with a link to a fuller Excel spreadsheet.

The 2019 release is notable since it marks the first major addition to the U.S. public domain in more than twenty years. With works from 1923 slated to enter the public domain in 1999 under their original 75-year copyright term, Congress enacted the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which added 20 years to existing copyright terms and stalled the expansion of the public domain until now. (Without that extension, notes the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, works from 1962 would be entering the public domain this year instead; the Center provides a list of those titles as well.)

This development opens new avenues for researchers, who will be able to access the new additions to the public domain via sites like HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Google Books. HathiTrust has already prepared a collection of 1923 works that changed from "Limited" to "Full" view as of January 1. (A larger timeline of HathiTrust's public domain publications, with links to full text, can be found here.)

To learn more about copyright law, try a search of the new Duke University Libraries catalog for the subject heading "Copyright – United States." You’ll find titles like the seminal treatise Nimmer on Copyright (also available on Lexis Advance), Patry on Copyright (also available on Westlaw), and the 2006 Center for the Study of the Public Domain comic Bound by Law? Tales from the Public Domain (also available for free viewing online). For help locating more materials, be sure to Ask a Librarian.