Public Domain Day 2019

On January 1st 2019, works copyrighted in 1923 entered the public domain! This is the first “Public Domain Day” since Congress extended copyright in 1998. Books, films, and sheet music copyrighted that year in the United States are now free to use without seeking permission or paying fees. (Only the 1923 editions, if there are later copyrighted editions! Librarians call this the 1923 manifestation of a work.)

Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a detailed explanation and a list of some notable items that have “gone public.” They may be worth considering for course or research project materials. HathiTrust already has released over 20,000 books and scientific reports copyrighted in 1923.

Some works from 1923 are startlingly out of touch with current values. The full lyrics of “Yes! We Have No Bananas” – a song refrain my family has sung for years – reveal it is an ethnic caricature. Songs making fun of ethnic groups were popular in the 1920s. The Library of Congress has more examples, plus curricula for teaching about them and about attitudes towards immigrants. As upsetting as such materials may be, having them publicly available is important to understanding our current social climate.

A librarian can help you locate public domain materials, and answer your copyright questions. Here’s to many happy returns of Public Domain Day!

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