There was a time, somewhat long ago in the previous century, when copyrighted material – various forms of media such as books, films and TV shows – would eventually lapse their copyright protection, which gives the holders legal defense against unauthorized copying of their published material, and enter what is called the Public Domain. The public domain refers to all creative works that no longer have exclusive intellectual property rights, and can thus be reproduced and referred to freely. In the United States however, there has been several instances where normal copyright periods have been expanded. Only now, in the first day of 2019, creative works from 1923 finally entered public domain after their rights naturally elapsed.
Ars Technica tells us that on January 1 of this New Year, copyrighted works from 1923 were allowed to pass into the public domain of free use. This is notable considering how this happened two decades and one year after the copyrights of creative works from 1922 lapsed, back in 1998. US copyright law by default has accorded rights-holders protection for their creative works for their whole lifetime plus 70 years, but a Copyright Term Extension Act added 20 more years to the 1923 works.
Said copyright extension had been sponsored by singer-songwriter turned US Congressman Sonny Bono, whose death in 1998 may have led to a sympathy vote in the US Congress for its passing. Among the many companies that had lobbied for such included major media brands such as Disney, which would have had their founder’s iconic creation, Mickey Mouse, be protected by copyright even longer (he was created by Walt Disney in 1928). Unfortunately for many other creative works they have been dragged along, with potential protection terms lasting all the way to 2047 in some cases.
Among the many creative works that have finally entered the public domain in 2019 include the 1923 silent film “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. DeMille (distinct from his 1956 version starring Charleton Heston), songs “Charleston” and “Yes! We Have No Bananas”, Ernest Hemingway’s short stories “Up in Michigan” and “My Old Man”, and the “New Hampshire” collection of poems by Robert Frost, which includes the famous “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and its quotable line “Miles to go before I sleep”.
Barring any renewed attempt to have copyright terms extended, every succeeding New Year from now on will see another year’s worth of copyrighted works finally entering the public domain – 1924 works in 2020, 1925 works in 2021 and so on.
Image from Cecile B. DeMille.com