Books (& more) enter the public domain in the USA today…in a way we haven’t seen for 20 years

Books (& more) enter the public domain in the USA today…in a way we haven’t seen for 20 years

Over time, copyright extension has been repeatedly extended in the USA (and certainly, in some other countries). I think there are legitimate reasons for that, and have even explored the idea of permanent copyright in exchange for greater Fair Use (educational & preservational uses):

Should copyright be permanent?

That said, I love that books are available legally to people for free! Anyone who has the means to access them (and public libraries commonly provide those) can read, for example, “the Famous Fourteen” original (Wizard of) Oz books for free.

For the past 20 years, though, large numbers of works have not fallen into the public domain on January 1st, as had been happening. That’s because of an extension to copyright which happened in 1998, largely extending copyright to 95 years. NOTE: It’s important to note at this point that I am not an intellectual property attorney (or a lawyer of any kind)…just an interested layperson. I’m also not trying to cover every possibility (it can be complicated), and I’m only talking about the USA. Take everything below as rule of thumb.

Works first published 1922 or earlier in the USA have already been in the public domain in the USA. Oh, I haven’t defined public domain! Basically, the books (and most other works, including movies) become owned by the public. You don’t have to get permission from anyone to reproduce them, distribute them, sell them (although the containers, like the paperbooks themselves, can still be owned), or adapt them into other works (making movies out of books, for instance). Also be aware that a translation of a work creates a new copyright, and if you are scanning a paperbook or looking at something online, introductions, analyses, images can all still be copyrighted when the original work is not.

So, 1923+95 years=2018…which just ended.

Duke Law has a great page:

Public Domain Day

Well, it’s great for the information…be aware that it is advocatory. They make the point about what would have fallen into the public domain if copyright had not been extended in the past, which clearly seems to advocate for shorter terms.

Based on what they say, here are some of the books you now own:

  • Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan is one of those characters, like Sherlock Holmes, which can really confuse people. Some of the works are in the public domain, but some have not been. If a series was published starting before 1922, and continued into 1923 or beyond, some of the books are in the public domain, and some are not. A character could also be trademarked as well, which is something different…works could be in the public domain featuring a character, and you still might not be free to do whatever you want with the character)
  • The Prophet by Kahil Gibran
  • Agatha Christie, The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot)
  • e.e cummings: Tulips and Chimneys
  • John Ds Passos: Streets of Night
  • Arthur Conan Doyle: The Case for Spirit Photography
  • E.M. Forster: Pharos and Pharillon
  • Laura Lee Hope: The Bobbsey Twins Camping Out
  • Elbert Hubbard: Antic Hay
  • Rudyard Kipling: Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls
  • D.H. Lawrence: Birds, Beasts and Flowers
  • Hugh Lofting: Dr. Doolittle’s Post Office
  • Bertrand Russell: The Prospects of Industrial Civilization
  • Carl Sandberg: Rootabag Pigeons
  • Booth Tarkington (The Fascinating Stranger and Other Stories)
  • Edgar Wallace: The Valley of Ghosts
  • P.G. Wodehouse: Jeeves

That’s just some…and they’ll show up fairly quickly online (they may be there already, since people knew this was happening). I’d particularly look at

Project Gutenberg


The Internet Archive

It’s more than books: there are also movies, which will affect those of us watching on Fire TVs and such. 🙂 Interesting, while some songs are part of it, actual sound recordings tend not to be (meaning you can’t just reproduce the records you bought at a garage sale).

This should continue until the laws change, with more books entering the public domain on January 1st each year…

Have any thoughts about this? Are you planning to make any of the books available to the public yourself, perhaps adding copyrighted material (such as an introduction) to them? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get.


Shop ’til you help!


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

2 Responses to “Books (& more) enter the public domain in the USA today…in a way we haven’t seen for 20 years”

  1. Phink Says:

    The link talks about how “It’s Wonderful Life” was a flop until it hit public domain. I’m sure most have no idea that was the case. Finally, during the Christmas season of 2016 (3 Christmas’s ago) I watched this movie. I think I’m about the last person my age in America to not have seen it. I was 50 at the time by the way. Yep, great movie. I’ve watched it 3 years in a row now.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      Well, it’s important to note that public domain isn’t the only way to do that. The 1939 Wizard of Oz (the one with Judy Garland) was largely a flop until it began to be shown (legally) on TV.

      Night of the Living Dead became public domain when a distributor changed the title card (as I recall the story), which removed the then required copyright notice. Did that help the movie’s popularity? Perhaps, but it’s not clear.

      I do think It’s a Wonderful Life is a great movie!

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