Here’s another reason to wish each other a happy New Year. January 1, 2019, marks the first time in 21 years that copyrighted works entered the public domain in the United States.
When the clock struck midnight, tens of thousands of books, poems, plays, and movies, which were first published in, 1923 became free of any copyright restrictions whatsoever.
You’ll now be able to download them for free, republish them for money, cut and splice them, use them to make greeting cards to sell on Etsy, or incorporate them into the soundtrack for your own movie. You name it — for profit, not for profit, it doesn’t matter, these works are free for you to use as you choose.
These works dating from 1923 were supposed to become part of the public domain in 1998 (after the statutory 75 years), but in that year, Disney and other powerful copyright holders successfully lobbied Congress to extend copyright restrictions another 20 years. This way, Disney postponed the lapse of copyright on its biggest icon, Mickey Mouse.
Each year, a new set of published works will become part of the public domain, but for now, here’s a taste of what’s newly available. Expect Google Books and the Internet Archive to begin make these works available for free starting today:
Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments
The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Lon Chaney
Short films featuring Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang
Animated films including Felix the Cat and Koko the Clown
Willa Cather, A Lost Lady
Anton Chekhov, Love and Other Stories
G.K. Chesterton, Fancies Versus Fads
Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links
Winston Churchill, The World Crisis
Joseph Conrad, The Rover
Daniel Dafoe, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders
Arthur Conan Doyle, Our American Adventure
Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Nikolay Gogol, Dead Souls
Aldous Huxley, Antic Hay
Rudyard Kipling, Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls
John P. Marquand, Four of a Kind
H.L. Mencken, The American Language
George Santayana, Poems
Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front
P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves
Think you have read everything by your favorite author? Think again.
Short stories and essays by Sherwood Anderson, G.K. Chesterton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Conan Doyle, Zane Grey, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, W. Somerset Maugham, Edna St. Vincent, Booth Tarkington, P.G. Wodehouse, and William Butler Yeats that were published by magazines in 1923 will now be available to share.
Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has compiled this partial list.
“Yes! We Have No Bananas,” Frank Silver and Irving Cohn
“Charleston,” Cecil Mack and James P. Johnson
“London Calling!,” Noel Coward
Music from Louis Armstrong’s collaboration with Lil Hardin, and from Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jelly Roll Morton will now be available. See Duke University’s list of what is available for specific song titles.