For many, January 1 marks the beginning of a new year, which is often associated with looking forward. Ironically, some celebrate January 1 by looking backwards, in observance of Public Domain Day. Public Domain Day 2020 looked specifically to the year 1924. Why? Because copyrighted works from 1924 (which would have entered the public domain on January 1, 2000, had Congress not extended the 75-year copyright term to 95 years) would finally enter the public domain.
Among the works that entered the public domain this year are:
- Edward Hopper’s painting New York Pavements
- E. M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India
- the first film adaptation of Peter Pan
- Al Jolson’s musical composition California, Here I Come
- George Gershwin’s musical composition Rhapsody in Blue
Now that these works (among others from 1924 and earlier) are part of the public domain, they are available for anyone to reproduce or distribute freely for others to rediscover. And copyright may no longer be asserted as a legal basis to request taking down, for example, the showing of Peter Pan here. Or the reproduction of the complete novel A Passage to India here. Or the sheet music for Rhapsody in Blue.
Additionally, copyright may no longer be relied upon to prevent anyone from appropriating and adapting works in the public domain into new works. Though no one may claim exclusive copyright in a work in the public domain, an adaptation of the work may contain sufficiently original authorship to itself qualify for copyright.
With all this in mind, we hope you celebrate this new year not simply by looking backwards to rediscover past works—but by looking forward and reimagining those past works into something new. In with the old, and in with the new!
Cheers to an inspired new year!