One of the blessings of what’s been a rough couple of years is that Public Domain Day is now a routine cause for celebration in the United States. For 20 years up to 2019, very little entered the public domain due to a 20-year copyright extension enacted in 1998. But beginning in 2019, we started getting large numbers of works joining the public domain again, and every year from then on I’ve posted here about what’s about to join the public domain in the new year.
As I did last year, I’m posting to Twitter, making one tweet per day featuring a different work about to enter the public domain in the US, using the #PublicDomainDayCountdown hashtag. Most of these works were originally published in 1926. But this year for the first time we’ll also be having a large number of sound recordings joining the public domain for the first time, published in 1922 and before.
Since not everyone reads Twitter, and there’s no guarantee that my tweets will always be accessible on that site, I’ll reproduce them here. (This post will be updated to include new tweets as they appear leading up to 2022, and may be further updated later on to link to copies of some of the featured works, or for other reasons.) The tweet links have been reformatted for the blog, and a few tweets have been recombined or otherwise edited.
If you’d like to comment yourself on any of the works mentioned here, or suggest others I can feature, feel free to reply here or on Twitter. (My account there is @JMarkOckerbloom. You’ll also find some other people tweeting on the #PublicDomainDayCountdown hashtag, and you’re welcome to join in as well.
I’m not the only one doing a public domain preview like this. The Public Domain Review has an Advent-calendar style countdown going as well through the month of December, complete with artwork and information about the featured works longer than what will fit in a single tweet. (They’re featuring works entering the public domain in other countries as well as in the US.). A few other organizations also often publish posts about what’s coming to the public domain, and I may add links to some of their posts as they appear.
Here’s my countdown for 2022:
October 15: A.A. Milne and E. H. Shepard’s book Winnie-the-Pooh was published this week in 1926. It is one of the best-known works set to join the US public domain in 78 days. Follow #PublicDomainDayCountdown to hear about many others from now till January.
October 16: I never read Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd after reading a spoiler about who infamously did it. But when it joins the US public domain in 77 days, anyone could write new variants, and those could well keep me guessing. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 17: “Have had ample time for serious thought and it is my ambition to follow up on my art,” resolved Will James on his release from prison. His Newbery-winning first novel Smoky the Cowhorse joins the public domain in 76 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 18: Harry Woods’s “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along” has been performed memorably by many artists (including Al Jolson, Lillian Roth, Doris Day, & the Nields) over the last 95 years. It bobs along to the public domain in 75 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 19: Don Juan, the first Vitaphone feature film, premiered in 1926, with sound effects and music synchronized to the visuals. It raised expectations of the prospect of talking pictures: The film joins the public domain in 74 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 20: Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, finished by Franco Alfano with libretto by Giuseppe Adami & Renato Simoni, has been an operatic staple since its debut. (See e.g. the Met’s current production.) It joins the public domain in 73 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (Thanks to @abzeronow for suggesting this work, along with its famous aria “Nessun Dorma” that will join the public domain at the new year with the rest of the opera. Further suggestions for my #PublicDomainDayCountdown, which will continue to the start of 2022, are welcome!)
October 21: This coming Public Domain Day is extra special. In 72 days, every sound recording published from the invention of records through 1922 joins the US public domain. Like these recordings of Enrico Caruso. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 22: With a multiracial, multigenerational cast of characters, Edna Ferber’s novel Show Boat topped weekly bestseller lists in 1926, and was adapted for radio, films, and an even more famous Broadway musical. The book’s public domain opening is in 71 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 23: Sometimes uncertainty over a US copyright’s start makes it hard to tell when it ends. I had Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden in last year’s #PublicDomainDayCountdown, but that may have been premature. Its 1926 screenings clarify its PD status in 70 days.
October 24: “Among the biographers I am a first-rate poet,” said Carl Sandburg. Many reviewers found his biography of Abraham Lincoln’s early life, The Prairie Years, first-rate in both poetic style and its panoply of facts. It joins the public domain in 69 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 25: It’s 68 days more till issues of the Journal of Biological Chemistry as old as November 1925 go public domain. But this year, the entire run was made open access. Why wait to share your research freely with the world? #PublicDomainDayCountdown #OAWeek
October 26: The Academy of American Poets has an illuminating profile of The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes’s first book of poetry, which includes often-anthologized poems on African American life. The book joins the public domain in 67 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 27: “There must be more money!” whispers throughout D. H. Lawrence’s short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner”, first published in the July 1926 Harper’s Bazar. When it joins the public domain in 66 days, the need for money to copy or adapt it will finally end. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 28: Some years back, my wife and I (both fans of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane) put online Whose Body?, her first Wimsey novel. We’re looking forward to her second, Clouds of Witness, joining it in the public domain in 65 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 29: Donna Scanlon reviews Lord Dunsany’s The Charwoman’s Shadow, a classic fantasy novel, set in “a mythical medieval Spain”, that joins the public domain in 64 days. (Thanks to @MrBeamJockey for suggesting this one!) #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 30: Mari Ness describes Lucy Maud Montgomery’s The Blue Castle as a book about “a Sleeping Beauty trapped in Canada”, and an escape from her popular but constraining Anne of Green Gables books. It joins the public domain in 63 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
October 31: Anne M. Pillsworth and Ruthanna Emrys discuss Abraham Merritt’s creepy tale “The Woman of the Wood”, which appeared in the August 1926 issue of Weird Tales, and which reaches the public domain in 62 days. (Beware spoilers!) #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 1: Like many academics, church historian F. J. Foakes-Jackson aimed to publish on a grander scale than he managed, but still had an impressive career output. His book on the life of St. Paul joins the public domain in 61 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 2: Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritualist interest was increasingly visible in 1926. While it didn’t figure in his 4 1926 Sherlock Holmes stories, it did in his novel The Land of Mist, and his 2-volume history of spiritualism. All go public domain in 60 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 3: Infantilizing romantic songs have largely fallen out of favor, but “Baby Face” retains staying power by also being singable, in excerpted form, to actual babies. In 59 days, it will be more freely adaptable in that and other ways. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 4: Raped by a traveling preacher, then cast out by her family and town, the protagonist of The Unknown Goddess avoids ruination, spurns redemption by marriage, and becomes a healer. Ruth Cross’s 1926 novel, now hard to find, goes public domain in 58 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 5: With Seneca and white ancestry, Arthur C. Parker (Gawaso Wanneh) wrote to promote mutual cultural understanding. His collection of folklore for children, Skunny Wundy and other Indian Tales, joins the public domain in 57 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 6: The 1926 musical Oh, Kay! had a book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, and songs by George and Ira Gershwin, including the enduring standard “Someone to Watch Over Me”. It joins the public domain in 8 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 7: Copies of the book The Great Gatsby, new to the public domain this year, can easily be found and read. Its first film adaptation is not so fortunate. Its copyright still has 55 days left, but almost all of it is now deemed lost. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 8: Margaret Evans Price was a writer, artist, and toy designer, one of the co-founders of Fisher-Price Toys in 1930. She both wrote and illustrated Enchantment Tales for Children, which joins the public domain in 54 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #WomensArt
November 9: 53 days remain on the copyright of George Clason’s 1926 personal finance guide The Richest Man in Babylon, & the main Dow Jones average is over 200 times what it was in 1926. Well-invested early royalties usually way outearn new royalties 95 years out. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 10: Dorothy Parker was famous in the 1920s for sardonic verse and commentary in magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Her first book of collected verse, Enough Rope, joins the public domain in 52 days. So do the 1926 issues of those two magazines. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 11: After World War I ends, three veterans & a war widow come home, and they find their relationships with those they return to permanently changed. Soldiers’ Pay, William Faulkner’s debut novel, joins the public domain in 51 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 12: The Stratemeyer syndicate released many series books in 1926, including debuts of the X Bar X Boys & Bomba the Jungle Boy. Many didn’t age well in their original form, but in 50 days the public domain could spur creative reboots. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 13: It’s best known now as an Elvis song, but “Are You Lonesome To-night?” has been sung and recorded by many singers since Lou Handman & Roy Turk wrote it in 1926. It won’t be lonesome in the public domain, which it joins in 49 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 14: Seventy Negro Spirituals was William Arms Fisher’s response to Antonín Dvořák’s call for American “serious” (& mostly white) composers & musicologists to respect and draw on Black music. Still referred to today, it joins the public domain in 48 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 15: “There is pleasure in philosophy,” says Will Durant at the start of The Story of Philosophy, which has made western philosophy pleasurable & accessible to a general audience for decades. It joins the public domain in 47 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 16: An attractive young cat burglar gets out of prison, but she can’t escape getting caught up in international intrigue. No, it’s not the latest streaming blockbuster; it’s Baroness Orczy’s The Celestial City, coming to the public domain in 46 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 17: Would HG Wells or Hilaire Belloc have bothered to renew copyrights on their extended flame war in print over The Outline of History? Wells’ heirs renewed his side; GATT in effect renewed Belloc’s. They finally expire in 45 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 18: When Richard Scarry was growing up, Helen Cowles LeCron and Maurice Day published an illustrated children’s book which, like his, featured animals in human dress behaving badly and well. Their Animal Etiquette Book joins the public domain in 44 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 19: Franz Kafka died before finishing Das Schloss (The Castle), a novel in which “K” is frustrated dealing with an inflexible, arbitrary & uncaring governing system. Its first published edition joins the US public domain in 43 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 20: In 1926, Sinclair Lewis saw the film adaptation of his Canada-set novel Mantrap, then told the audience he was glad he’d read the book because he didn’t recognize it from the movie. They’ll both become comparable in the public domain in 42 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 21: Enthusiastic about astronomy, photography, nature, and bibliography, Florence Armstrong Grondal combined many of her passions in The Music of the Spheres: A Nature Lover’s Astronomy. Her book rises over the public domain horizon in 41 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 22: “As a narrative of war and adventure it is unsurpassable,” Winston Churchill said of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence’s classic personal account of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Its first edition joins the public domain in 40 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 23: There’s often extra drama in a Yale-Harvard football game. The one in Brown of Harvard includes John Wayne, Grady Sutton, & Robert Livingston, all uncredited, in their screen debuts. The film joins the public domain in 39 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 24: The US copyright status of Felix Salten’s 1923 book Bambi has long been controversial. (See e.g. William Patry’s post on the Twin Books case.) The arguments will be moot in 38 days, though, when its 1926 US registration expires. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 25: Big dinner parties can be stressful for many concerned about doing them Correctly. Isabel Cotton Smith’s Blue Book of Cookery and Manual of House Management, introduced by Emily Post, was meant for such concerns. It joins the public domain in 37 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 26: My high school library displays a larger than life painting of its namesake Katharine Brush, a writer who had much fame and fortune from the 1920s through the 1940s. Her first novel, Glitter, joins the public domain in 36 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 27: Seán O’Casey completed his Dublin trilogy with The Plough and the Stars, a play whose unsentimental portrayal of the Easter Rising prompted riots at an early performance. It joins the US public domain in 35 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 28: Christopher Vecsey profiles liberal Protestant minister Harry Emerson Fosdick, focusing on Adventurous Religion and Other Essays, which he says “illuminates his faith best of all.” That book joins the public domain in 34 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdow
November 29: Willa Cather’s enigmatic novel My Mortal Enemy makes some wonder if it’s based on her personal life or inner circle. (Here’s Charles Johanningsmeier’s take.) It becomes public domain in 33 days, enabling wider analysis. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
November 30: Giving workers not just wages, but also a stake in their company, has a long history. Profit Sharing and Stock Ownership for Employees by Gorton James et al. is a detailed study of its use and consideration up to 1926. It goes public domain in 32 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
December 1: Topper: An Improbable Adventure relates the misadventures of a mild-mannered banker who starts seeing ghosts. Thorne Smith’s novel, which spawned sequels, films, and radio and TV series, levitates to the public domain in 31 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
December 2: S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, based on Jewish folklore, is one of the best-known Yiddish plays, still frequently staged: The first English version, translated by Henry G. Alsberg and Winifred Katzin, joins the public domain in 30 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
December 3: Sherwood Anderson’s 1926 magazine pieces include the 1st version of one of his most famous stories “Death in the Woods”, as well as others that went into his book Tar: A Midwest Childhood. They join the public domain in 29 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown
Follow #PublicDomainDayCountdown to hear about many others from now till January, and watch this post for further updates.