What do F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Buster Keaton, and Jelly Roll Morton all have in common? They all have works that are entering the public domain in the U.S. today on Public Domain Day!

Today is Public Domain Day and this year’s celebration is a special one for those of us in the United States. After a 20-year pause, works published in the United States will once again be entering the public domain on a rolling basis. This year, we welcome works first registered or published in the United States in 1923.

As public domain works, these books, films, compositions, and works of art can be used without copyright restrictions. This means, for example, that instructors can make copies of literary works for their students, ensembles can create new arrangements and publicly perform musical works, and students can adapt and remix works freely into their own projects and assignments. Works in the public domain can be used to encourage and support learning, scholarship, and creative endeavors.

Why the 20-year wait?

Copyright protects many different types of creative works, including books, film, music, and art. And while the U.S. Constitution requires copyright be granted only for “limited Times,” the term of copyright protection has increased over the years. In 1998, Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extended the term of protection for published works by an additional 20 years. For works published before 1978, this meant a term of protection of 95 years from publication date. We have now reached the point where eligible works are reaching the 95-year mark.

In addition to these published works, we will see certain unpublished works enter the public domain in the U.S. on this day; specifically, unpublished works from authors who died during 1948 and unpublished works created in 1898 for anonymous and pseudonymous authors and works made for hire, and unpublished works when the date of the author’s death is unknown.[1]

Celebrating the Public Domain at OSU

Copyright Services has collaborated with partners across OSU to share public domain works in the University Libraries collections, focusing on musical compositions published or registered in the U.S. in 1923. Tomorrow, January 2, you can visit the Public Domain Day Project website (go.osu.edu/PublicDomainDay) to learn more about the partners involved in this project, the events planned for 2019, our plans for releasing new recordings of select musical works (to be dedicated to the public domain via Creative Commons CC0), and to access music scores and audio. New works will be added throughout 2019.

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By Maria Scheid, Copyright Services Coordinator at Copyright Services, The Ohio State University Libraries

[1] Depending on the work you are dealing with, there may be some additional considerations in determining the copyright status of a work. Two great resources for thinking through copyright term and public domain are the American Library Association’s Public Domain Slider and Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States chart.