Thousands of Previously Copyrighted Works Just Entered the Public Domain

The last mass copyright expiration occurred before Google even existed, meaning a big part of the 20th century's works is missing from the internet - until now.

Jan 31, 2019

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Attention all bibliophiles and creators: just a few weeks ago, we all received free access to thousands of published books, movies, and other works of art! It’s been a long 21 years since the last time that copyrighted works were added to the public domain.

According to copyright law, all copyrighted works published before 1978 were eligible for 75 years of protection. All works published after 1978 were protected for the author’s entire lifetime plus an additional 50 years. In 1998, a few of the biggest corporate conglomerates succeeded to add another 20 years of additional protection.

This past New Years Day was more than a celebration welcoming the new year. It was also the official expiration of the additional 20-year copyright protection, meaning thousands of books, films, musical pieces, and other literary works published in 1923 are free for public consumption and enjoyment.

Some of the works previously unavailable include Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and books by celebrated authors Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, Khalil Gibran, Aldous Huxley, Edith Wharton, and D. H. Lawrence.

Many, many works from the 20th century have been unavailable...until now. Many experts in the literary and arts industries believe we could experience and witness an age of massive creative expression from the release of these works and they could become the inspiration behind future projects.

More than 50,000 films made in 1923 were added to the Hathi Trust website - a mobile digital library - making it easier for local and community theaters to screen these films for residents. Performance groups can put their spin on these plays, scripts, songs, and musicals, and Google Books suddenly has access to thousands of new books - all available for free - for readers to delve into.

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, told the Smithsonian that this illuminates an entire generation, mostly unexplored. “We have shortchanged a generation. The 20th century is largely missing from the internet,” he said.

“The public domain has been frozen in time for 20 years, and we’re reaching the 20-year thaw,” added Jennifer Jenkins, the director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

The expiration could usher in a whole new understanding of this century, as well as inspire creators and artists to influence our world in ways we have yet to experience.

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REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.