Happy Public Domain Day!
Yes, we have no bananas! No bananas, perhaps, but we do have access to a fun song with plenty more where that came from. January 1, 2019 marks a major event – and no, it’s not just another chance to make good on resolutions. Sure, you can save money, organize your home and lose all the weight you want, but the real news is that Public Domain Day has finally arrived. After all, New Year’s Day comes around annually, but it’s been over 20 years since we got to enjoy this kind of celebration.
Today a substantial collection of content copyrighted in 1923 enters the U.S. public domain. The content represents a broad assortment of creative endeavors: books, movies, songs, plays, paintings, musical compositions and more. In total, we’re talking about tens of thousands of creations! Hathi Trust Digital Library already shows 53,473 volumes in their 1923 collection, with more to be unearthed and added, no doubt.
Public domain means the copyright has expired, so anyone can use these works for free, in part or in whole, or if it feels right, by building new content based on the works as they originally existed. You can share, publish, print, present, translate, teach – whatever your heart desires. Use the image in your blog post. Write fanfiction. Remix and show clips. No penalty, no fee, no guilt.
Strange as it may seem, this long-awaited day is the result of something called the Sonny Bono Act. That’s right, a dry legislative action named after Cher’s erstwhile companion. You see, under older law the standard term of protection expired 75 years after the work was copyrighted. But in 1998 the U.S. Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act, later renamed the Sonny Bono Act, which added another 20 years to the copyright term for protected works that had been published prior to 1978.
The 1923 copyrighted content that had been slated to enter public domain in 1998 was taken off the launch pad and re-wrapped in its veil of legal protection for two more decades, only to be revealed today. Next year we’ll have unfettered access to the copyrighted works from 1924, and in each subsequent year we’ll get another batch of content that was copyrighted 95 years earlier, assuming the law retains its current form.
Now how should we celebrate the momentous occasion? With a wonderful collection of short stories by my favorite author, P.G. Wodehouse: The Inimitable Jeeves. Or if you’re more of a movie person, by watching Charlie Chaplin films until you’ve laughed yourself into a coma. Too silly? Fine, then enjoy the famous Robert Frost poem about stopping in the woods to watch the snow, or dive into Freud’s biggie, The Ego and the Id. Or maybe just sit down with a song and a nice piece of fruit.