Public Domain Day countdown on public social media networks

I’m starting my countdown today to Public Domain Day, when a year’s worth of copyrights in many countries expires on January 1. In the US, we’ll be getting works that were copyrighted in 1927, and whose copyrights were consistently maintained since then. I’ll be featuring 60 works, or sets of works, one per day in the days to come. You’re welcome to read and join in.

In recent years, the primary venue for my countdown has been Twitter. Recent events, though, make me less confident in the future of that site as a useful and enjoyable social media platform. When it comes down to it, I’m not all that optimistic about any large-scale discussion forum that’s controlled by the whims of one rich guy. So this year, I’m trying out a new primary venue that’s not subject to any one person or organization. I’ve dusted off an account I created a while back on, and will be posting my countdown first there. They’ll be readable not just on that site, but on any other site that exchanges messages with it using the ActivityPub protocol. That’s a large array of sites, collectively known as the “Fediverse” (for the way that sites federate with each other to do that message exchange), or as “Mastodon” (which, strictly speaking, refers to the open source software used by many, but not all, of those sites). On any federated site you can read and respond to my posts by following or searching the #PublicDomainDayCountdown hashtag (linked here via the website, which can be slow at times). Or follow my personal account, though that will also show you posts I make on other topics, and might not show posts others make using the hashtag.

You can join whatever Fediverse site you like, or join multiple ones. If you later want to move to another Fediverse site that you like better, you can take your follows with you and leave a forwarding address. (I might do that myself after I finish the countdown from my current site.) If you’d like to learn more, Ruth Kitchin Tillman, who co-administers one of those sites, has a useful introductory guide, written especially with library folks in mind. Newcomers, or those who would like refreshers, might also find the documentation on useful. You can also find a large directory of sites to consider, as well as various apps for using them if you don’t want to just use their websites, at

I do plan to continue posting the countdown on Twitter as well, though it might appear in more abbreviated form there due to the smaller character limits for posts, and might appear later than it does in the Fediverse. (Or possibly earlier in some cases; I’m not quite sure myself how long it typically takes posts to propagate through the Fediverse.) [Update: I stopped posting it on Twitter on December 11, for reasons I gave there that day.] And, as usual, I’ll also post and periodically update my countdown here on this site, where the only controlling whims are my own.

Reformatted for my blog, here is my countdown for 2023:

November 2: “Wait a minute- you ain’t heard nothing yet!” said Al Jolson onscreen in 1927, and the movies would never be the same again. Arun Starkey on The Jazz Singer, the first “talkie” feature film, joining the public domain in 60 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 3: The Hardy Boys was the first multi-generation breakout hit series from the Stratemeyer fiction factory. Leslie McFarlane, its original ghostwriter, writes about taking the job. His first 3 mysteries join the public domain in 59 days.

Many of us read syndicate-revised versions with updated settings and less overt racism, but arguably less interesting prose. In the public domain, we’re all free to both read the originals & adapt them as we like. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 4: “An almost mythic tale of a life simply lived in the American southwest” is how the Literary Ladies Guide describes Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, joining the public domain in 58 days. More on the book at the University of Nebraska’s Willa Cather site. You can find bibliographic information and scholarly articles there now; I look forward to them adding full text, as they have for earlier Cather novels. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 5: “I ask you very confidentially…”

Jack Yellen wrote the music, and Milton Ager wrote the lyrics, inspired by his daughter (a toddler at the time, later a regular on 60 Minutes).

“…Ain’t She Sweet?”

Published in 1927, it’s been covered by scores of artists, including the Beatles and the Muppets. I’ll sing it to my sweetie when I go out with her this weekend. It’ll be in the public domain in 57 days, and probably in your head right now. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 6: Sherlock Holmes fans have reason to rejoice in 8 weeks. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s last two Holmes stories, and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, join the US public domain then. Not only does this free the complete Holmes canon, but it also frees adapters from worry that Doyle’s estate might shake them down for payment or approval based on claims of copying aspects of Holmes allegedly only in the late stories. (See e.g. this story.) #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 7: “Who do you think can hold God’s people / When the Lord God himself has said, / Let my people go?”

God’s Trombones consists of James Weldon Johnson’s poetic distillations of sermon themes and preaching styles he often heard in African American churches. It’s notable for Aaron Douglas’s art and design as well as Johnson’s poetry, as the Norman Rockwell Museum shows:

God’s Trombones goes into the public domain in 55 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 8: “There are those who foresee the decline of partisan politics in this country,” wrote Dartmouth professor Harold R. Bruce in 1927, “but such people deceive themselves…” His textbook American Parties and Politics, which includes this quote, went through multiple editions. If you’re in the US, you can vote today, and in 54 days when the book’s first edition joins the public domain, you can more easily read it and compare the states of US politics then and now. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 9: Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is on multiple lists of best novels of the 20th century, though not all readers easily get into it. Kate Flint has an introduction, with accompanying content from the British Library, to this “carefully structured, psychologically complex novel that ultimately asks the reader to reflect on their own ever-changing experience of being in the world.” Woolf’s novel joins the US public domain in 53 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 10: Walter R. Brooks wrote over two dozen children’s books about Freddy the Pig and other remarkably intelligent animals living on the Bean Farm in upstate New York. The series ended in 1958, the year Brooks died, but it continues to have dedicated fans, some of whom run this website:

Freddy the Pig first appeared in To and Again in 1927. The original edition, illustrated by Adolfo Best-Maugard, joins the public domain in 52 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

November 11: “For those who will climb it, there is a ladder leading from the depths to the heights – from the sewer to the stars – the ladder of Courage.” That title card opens 7th Heaven, a 1927 film set in Paris on the verge of the first World War. Aubrey Solomon writes about it here for the Library of Congress.

This silent film, which earned three of the first-ever Academy Awards, joins the public domain in 51 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 12: Béla Bartók wanted the percussive effect of his first piano concerto magnified by placing the piano directly in front of the tympani and other percussion instruments. While it’s not staged that way here, pianist Yuja Wang and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra still bring out the energy that Bartók called for.

Bartók himself played the piano in the concerto’s premiere in Germany in 1927. It joins the public domain in the US in 50 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 13: Two memorable spinster detectives make their debuts in 1927. In Dorothy L. Sayers’ Unnatural Death (published in the US as The Dawson Pedigree), Miss Climpson goes undercover in an English village to investigate a murder for Lord Peter Wimsey. And Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple begins a decades-long crime-solving career in “The Tuesday Night Club”, a story published in the December 1927 Royal Magazine. Both join the US public domain in 49 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 14: Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf focuses on a man getting through severe mental and spiritual crisis. While it had mixed reviews at its 1927 release, it gained new popularity in the social crises of the 1960s, though Hesse then called it “violently misunderstood”.

Hesse’s original German novel joins the US public domain in 48 days. Prior English translations may stay copyrighted, but public domain status should foster new translations, audiences, and understandings. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 15: Charles Lindbergh won instant celebrity with his 1927 transatlantic flight. His memoir We, published weeks later, soared to the top of bestseller lists.

His fame turned darker later. His first child was murdered, he fled back over the Atlantic to escape the press, and later returned to advocate white supremacy and tolerance of Nazi aggression as ‘America First’ spokesman. But when We came out, he was still flying high. It lands in the public domain in 47 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 16: Fiction can be copyrighted, but facts are public domain. Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight inspired not just his own We, but hundreds of works by others. Among the first to take off was “Lucky Lindy”. L. Wolfe Gilbert and Abel Baer wrote and released the song within days of Lindbergh’s landing. It in turn joins the public domain in 46 days.

The flight may have also inspired the name of the “Lindy Hop”. Both name and dance are public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 17: African American poet Countee Cullen had a productive year in 1927. He published two collections of his own poetry, The Ballad of the Brown Girl and Copper Sun. He also edited Caroling Dusk, one of the major poetry anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance, featuring works by 38 Black poets. Danielle Sigler writes about the anthology for the Ransom Center Magazine.

All three books join the public domain in 45 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

November 18: “Like the seed, I would be able to die when the plant had developed, and I began to see that I had lived for its sake…”

Marcel Proust died on this day 100 years ago. Five years later, Le Temps Retrouvé, the final volume in his masterwork À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, was published. It reaches the US public domain in 44 days. The quote above, translated by Ian Patterson, is part of Proust’s summing up of his work. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon #Proust

November 19: Today I went #hiking through the Trailside Museums & Zoo in Bear Mountain, NY. It’s the only such exhibition I’ve seen designed for passing hikers. Founded in 1927, it features local wildlife, and was intended as a model for other outdoor education sites along the Appalachian Trail.

I wonder if it was inspired by Paul Griswold Howes, a nature writer who lived not far from there. His Backyard Exploration was published that year, and joins the public domain in 43 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 20: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.”

So begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel relating the lives of the victims of the disaster, and of a witness who thought he could show why God had them die. Wilder later said “In my novel I have left this question unanswered.” It joins the public domain in 6 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 21: Felix Frankfurter’s The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti is one of the few contemporary writings on their politically charged trial that’s not yet public domain. He published the book criticizing the proceedings as a Harvard law professor in 1927, months before Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. He renewed its copyright as a Supreme Court justice in 1954. It expires in 41 days, as does the copyright of another 1927 book he coauthored, The Business of the Supreme Court. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 22: In 1927, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was about as far in the past as John F. Kennedy’s is today. One of the former’s last surviving eyewitnesses, actor Joseph Hazelton, related what he saw to Campbell MacCulloch, in a story that ran in the February 1927 issue of Good Housekeeping. Allan Ellenberger has more.

Most 1927 magazines did not renew copyrights, but Hearst magazines like Good Housekeeping did. It joins the public domain in 40 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 23: “‘S Wonderful,
‘S Marvelous,
That you should care for me!”

“”S Wonderful” was written by George and Ira Gershwin for Smarty. Little of that musical got to Broadway, but the song’s had a long, wonderful history since then. Rachel Fernandes tells some of it for the Gershwin Initiative.

The song joins the public domain in 39 days. But if there’s someone you care for, you don’t need to wait to tell them. I still sing it with my sweetheart, and we think ‘s wonderful. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 24: William Hazlett Upson’s work experience (including a stint as a tractor mechanic) inspired his humorous short stories about Alexander Botts, salesman for the Earthworm Tractor Company. They ran in the Saturday Evening Post for nearly 50 years. Octane Press has more on the character and his creator.

The first Botts story, “I’m a Natural-Born Salesman”, joins the public domain in 38 days, along with the rest of the 1927 Saturday Evening Post. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 25: The BBC writes on Clara Bow as Hollywood’s original “‘It’ Girl”. She got that nickname starring in It, a 1927 silent film based on a story by Elinor Glyn, which defined ‘It’ as “that quality possessed by some people which draws all others with its magnetic life force”. Both the movie and Glyn’s story join the public domain in 37 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 26: In John Buchan’s Witch Wood, a young Presbyterian minister moves to a rural Scottish village in 1644. Soon he discovers sinister goings-on in the nearby forest, implicating outwardly pious and powerful members of his parish. The novel was Buchan’s favorite, and many critics felt similarly, though its extensive Scots dialogue may challenge American readers. Phil Wade reviewed it earlier this year. It joins the US public domain in 36 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 27: In the Toronto Review of Books, Craig MacBride calls the Jalna series “A Canadian Downton Abbey, minus the pomp”. Mazo de la Roche wrote 16 novels of this intergenerational drama, which made her career and were bestsellers in Canada and elsewhere for decades. They’ve been in the Canadian public domain since 2012. The first novel, Jalna, was originally serialized in the US, in the Atlantic, and joins the US public domain in 5 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

November 28: One of the more unlikely scholarly publishing hits of 1927 was Helen Waddell’s The Wandering Scholars. It’s about the Goliards, young European clergy who wrote irreverent Latin poetry such as collected in Carmina Burana. A contemporary critic called Waddell’s book “jazzing the Middle Ages”. Current readers might like an edition explaining its many allusions (as Harry Cochrane’s review implies.) The book joins the US public domain in 34 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 29: Barbara Newhall Follett’s The House Without Windows is about a little girl who runs away from home to live in nature. It was published in 1927 when the author was 12. Jackie Morris, illustrator of a new edition, writes about the book and its author.

It joins the public domain in 33 days. The 1954 copyright renewal record for the book is attributed to the author, 15 years after her last known sighting, walking out of her home. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

November 30: Mark Frauenfelder writes today in Boing Boing on the imminent arrival of Fritz Lang’s iconic German science fiction film Metropolis in the public domain. As noted in Wikipedia, it’s had a long, complex history, with substantially different cuts released over time, a lapsed and then restored US copyright, and an increasingly appreciative critical reputation. The 1927 releases join the US public domain in 32 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 1: We’re now 1 month away from Public Domain Day 2023! One of the songs joining the public domain then is “The Best Things in Life Are Free”, written by BG DeSylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson for the musical Good News. SecondHandSongs has details on that and over 100 more uses of the song.

The Internet Archive is throwing a virtual party with the same title for the public domain in 2023. It too is free! Register here. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 2: Men Without Women includes some of Ernest Hemingway’s most memorable short stories, often told primarily through terse dialogue. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, a troubled young couple never explicitly spells out the issue they’re talking about. “The Killers”, in contrast, is driven by two hit men making clear what they’re talking about to all within earshot. Both stories, and the full 14-story collection they appear in, join the public domain in 30 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

December 3: Featuring gay characters and actors, cross-dressing, and attempts at conversion therapy, Mae West’s 1927 play The Drag was shut down by authorities before it could reach Broadway. Reviewing a 2022 revival at the Provincetown Theater, Rebecca Alvin calls it “both of its time and far ahead of its time, resonating now in ways it really shouldn’t.” This groundbreaking milestone in #LGBT #theater history joins the public domain in 29 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 4: Louis F. Benson devoted much of his life to collecting and studying Christian #hymns. He left his collection to Princeton Theological Seminary, which has further expanded it, and which provides free online access to thousands of volumes from it now in the public domain.

In four weeks, Benson’s lectures summing up his studies, published as The Hymnody of the Christian Church, join the public domain as well. I hope to see them online there soon. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 5: F. Tennyson Jesse’s Moonraker, or, the Female Pirate and Her Friends is an adventure story with a political punch. Kimberley Reynolds writes about its radicalism as part of an article in Breac.

It’s one of a number of titles in the Penn Libraries’ Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection, (featuring works by women set in the wilderness and the high seas) joining the public domain in 27 days. More about the collection. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 6: In Eulalie Spence’s “The Fool’s Errand”, a teenage girl deals with busybodies in her family and church who think she’s pregnant out of wedlock. It was the first play by a Black woman to be produced on Broadway, but it also led to the breakup of Harlem’s Krigwa Players over creative differences between her and founder W. E. B. Du Bois. The Mint Theater has more on Spence’s career. “The Fool’s Errand” joins the public domain in 26 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 7: Grevel Lindop writes about W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, sometimes called the “first modern spy”, appearing in morally grey stories that inspired writers like Graham Greene and John Le le Carré, and were repeatedly adapted for film, TV, and radio.

Maugham drew on his experiences as a British agent for his stories. The earliest ones, starting with “The Traitor”, were published in Cosmopolitan in 1927, and join the public domain in 25 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 8: People play with Pokemon cards, and collect baseball cards, but what about bird cards? The Singer Sewing Machine company issued an American Song Birds card series, with pictures and information on various species of birds, accompanied by advertising for their products. Here’s an Ebay listing for the Bobolink card, one of 16 cards from their 1927 series joining the public domain in 24 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 9: “He was born to be a senator. He never said anything important, and he always said it sonorously.” Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry doesn’t become a senator, but his scandal-filled career as a football star, salesman, New Thought promoter and Christian preacher has had a lasting cultural impact. Published in 1927, his novel was banned in Boston that year, and has been cited ever since in stories of real-life grifters and hypocrites. It joins the public domain in 23 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 10: Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter struggles with her family, her husband, and her faith in 14th century Norway. Undset’s novels about her led to her 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature. They’ve remained in print ever since. Ruth Graham writes on their lasting appeal.

The trilogy was first translated into English between 1923 and 1927. Charles Archer’s translation of its final novel, The Cross, joins the public domain in 22 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

December 11: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy became “Laurel and Hardy” in 1927. Among their comedy shorts joining the public domain in 3 weeks are “Duck Soup”, where they first co-star as a team, “Do Detectives Think?”, where they wear their soon-distinctive bowler-and-rumpled-suit outfits, and “Hats Off”, a lost film featuring heavy-item-on-long-stairs gag sequences and a climactic hat-scattering melee. A fan’s reconstruction of that one from available stills. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 12: Christopher Robin and Pooh return in Now We Are Six, a collection of verses by A. A. Milne featuring them and many other characters. It joins the public domain in 20 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

Tigger doesn’t appear in it, nor did he in Winnie the Pooh. He debuted in “Tigger Comes to the Forest”, published in the New York Post in May 1927. Bert Salg draws him differently there than he looks in 1928’s House at Pooh Corner. But this copyright-unrenewed version is US-public domain now.

Clipping from the New York Evening Post, May 21, 1927, showing portions of the story "Tigger Comes to the Forest" by A. A. Milne, with an illustration by Bert Salg showing Winnie the Pooh (drawn similarly to E. H. Shepard's version) in pajamas holding a candle facing Tigger, drawn notably differently from Shepard's version, with stripes, claws, and small round white ears.

December 13: Harry Woods’s songs, though nearly a century old, remain vital today. “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover”, written with Mort Dixon, is a #Philadelphia staple, performed by #Mummers bands (see e.g. this Quaker City String Band performance) and sung by Union soccer fans.

And a couple I’m friends with adopted Woods’s “Side by Side” as their song, dancing to it at their wedding reception and keeping a framed record of it in their home.

Both songs join the public domain in 19 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 14: “It is my suspicion that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

That’s one of the most memorable quotes of JBS Haldane, a scientist who also wrote extensively for the British popular press. It’s from the title essay of the 1927 collection Possible Worlds and Other Papers. Tim Radford writes here on the book, and on Haldane’s talents and flaws. It joins the US public domain in 18 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

December 15: The University of Washington Dance department has resources on the life and work of Isadora Duncan, the “mother of modern dance”.Duncan revolutionized #dance, upending ballet’s rigid rules of choreography and costume in favor of free-flowing and naturalistic sequences and dress. She also defied social convention in her personal life.

Published shortly after her death in 1927, Duncan’s autobiography My Life joins the public domain in 17 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 16: My #PublicDomainDayCountdown spotlights individual works, but the sheer number of works newly free to explore and analyze as a corpus is a treasure in itself.

John Livingston Lowes took advantage of a such a treasure in The Road to Xanadu. Lowes read every book he could find that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had, to show how his voracious reading nourished two of his great poems. Toby Litt calls it “a get-completely-lost-in-it book.” It joins the public domain in 16 days.

December 17: “it’s a PLAY, so let it PLAY with you… let it go all around and over and under you and inside you and through you. Relax… stop wondering what it’s ‘about’—like many strange and familiar things, Life included, this PLAY isn’t ‘about,’ it simply is.”

That’s from E. E. Cummings’ WARNING for his first play, him. Michael Webster has extensive notes about the play and its first production. him joins the public domain in 15 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 18: When Ludwig Lewisohn was pursuing a PhD, he was told “the chances are going to be greatly against you” in getting a professorship due to his “Jewish birth”. As Josh Lambert writes, the then highly assimilated Lewisohn “took this situation personally”. His 1927 “great American Jewish novel” The Defeated (published later as The Island Within) exhorts Jews to reject assimilation and embrace their identities. It goes public domain in 2 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 19: The Penn Libraries holds the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica, documenting Jewish life in the Americas from 1550 to 1890. Among its recent acquisitions are two portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart.

Hannah R. London’s 1927 book Portraits of Jews by Gilbert Stuart and Other Early American Artists shows and discusses many more portraits like this. It joins the public domain in 13 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 20: Duke’s Center for the Public Domain has now posted “What Will Enter the Public Domain in 2023?”. Jennifer Jenkins wrote their annual article, and it’s well worth reading both for the works and the commentary.

Among the works noted there is The Lodger, Alfred Hitchcock’s first suspense film. It incorporates numerous themes he’s known for in later films, as Andy Wolverton shows. It joins the US public domain in 12 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 21: Manvir Singh’s article on the Huxleys describes Julian Huxley’s Religion Without Revelation as built around controlling “a cosmic process that produces ever-greater intelligence and complexity”. Julian’s philosophy has enthralled some (with recent variants involving AI more than eugenics) and horrified others, including his brother Aldous, whom Singh suggests wrote Brave New World as a rebuttal. Julian’s book goes public domain in 11 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 22: Like her character, Lucy Maud Montgomery was torn about what choices Emily Starr should make in her life, including whether and how to pursue her passion to write, and which of her suitors, if any, she should marry. This article suggests how the character and her author ultimately made those choices in Emily’s Quest, the final book of Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon trilogy. The book joins the US public domain in 10 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #Bookstodon

December 23: “Caedit nos pestis” (“The plague is upon us”) are the first words sung in the oratorio/opera Oedipus Rex. It premiered in Paris in 1927, with music written by Igor Stravinsky, and libretto translated into Latin by Abbé Jean Daniélou from French text written by Jean Cocteau. In 2021 it was the LA Opera’s first performance after coming out of COVID lockdown. The 1927 #oratorio joins the public domain in 9 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 24: “Christmas should have an ingenuous, elemental simplicity about its spirit; and for this spirit we can draw infallibly upon Nature. Every wood is a sanctuary. Every tree is a shrine. Every star is a Star of Bethlehem.” Poet and nature writer Archibald Rutledge writes on the beauty and spirituality he finds in “My Christmas Woods”. Originally published in the December 1927 issue of Good Housekeeping, it joins the public domain in 8 days.

December 25: The life of Jesus is presented as a big-budget Hollywood epic in Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, first released in 1927 as a 155-minute silent film mostly in black and white, with Technicolor used for the resurrection scene. Gordon Thomas discusses the movie, and strengths of the 1927 release compared to later versions DeMille released, for Bright Lights Film Journal. It joins the public domain one week from today. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 26: Ross Altman writes “Has any other individual had such a singular impact on the broad sense of American folk music, song and story as Carl Sandburg? [Others] collected cowboy songs, or Negro spirituals, or sea shanties, but Sandburg collected them all, and saw the big picture of what they represented—as he rightly and first called it: The American Songbag—the songs of the people.” Sandburg’s 1927 collection will belong to the people in 6 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 27: A number of famous figures in crime fiction have appeared in my #PublicDomainDayCountdown this year. A less obvious figure who played a key role in the flowering of the genre’s Golden Age is T.S. Eliot. In 1927 he started featuring crime fiction reviews prominently in his literary magazine The Criterion, and wrote an influential list of rules for detective stories. His 1927 criticism, and many of the stories he reviewed in the magazine, join the public domain in 5 days.

December 28: In 1927, Duke Ellington’s orchestra began a residency at New York’s Cotton Club that lasted 4 years. Their live and radio shows soon made Ellington’s style of #jazz nationally famous. Ellington and trumpeter Bubber Miley collaborated on a number of the group’s early hits, including “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “East St. Louis Toodle-O”, featuring Miley’s growly muted trumpet sound. Both songs join the public domain in 4 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 29: Dhan Gopal Mukerji was asked to hide outside the 1928 Newbery ceremony before the award was announced, lest his presence among an overwhelmingly white crowd give away the winner in advance. He was the only Newbery medalist of color until the 1970s. Pooja Makhijani writes on the beauty of his book Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon, and on the squelched opportunities for more books like his. Gay-Neck joins the public domain in 3 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 30: A sober remembrance, before we celebrate #PublicDomainDay in 2 days, for works scheduled to join the public domain that didn’t survive this far. This year they include the 1927 films London After Midnight, a million dollar grossing film starring Lon Chaney, and The Way of All Flesh, whose lead actor’s performance was cited in his Oscar win. Causes of demise include lack of copies outside creators’ control, and long #copyright terms keeping others from making copies. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 31: “…and Ol’ Man River, he’ll just keep rollin’ along.”

That’s how Paul Robeson finished “Ol’ Man River” in his concerts, with stronger, more defiant words than those first used in Show Boat, the show Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the song for.

“Ol’ Man River” joins the public domain tomorrow. Show Boat joins it in a year. Later, so will their changes, and countless other works, as long as the public domain keeps rolling along. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

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Building a new banned books exhibit for a new era

When I first created Banned Books Online over 25 years ago, I wasn’t primarily worried about book censorship. I was worried about Internet censorship.

It was 1994, and the world at large was just getting to know the Internet, which not long before had been a network mostly limited to researchers, information technologists, and students and faculty at universities. After an undergraduate at my university wrote about pornography on the network (in a paper that would become the basis of a sensationalist Time magazine cover story the following year), our administration decided it needed to censor Usenet, a system of online discussion forums that then comprised the predominant social media of the online world. Specifically, Usenet forums discussing sex had to go. One of the administrators behind the decision was an English professor who in an interview praised James Joyce’s Ulysses, a groundbreaking novel still enjoyed and studied a century after its initial publication. But that publication had been banned for years, both in the US and elsewhere, due to the novel’s discussions and allusions to sex. I thought at the time, “if the Internet goes the way you want it to go here, no one will ever be able to publish Ulysses or anything like it online going forward.” Banned Books Online started as a way to reify that thought, and to demonstrate what we would lose in a heavily censored Internet.

I’m glad to say that, while there are still free speech battles to be fought on the Internet, pervasive censorship of the open Internet to something resembling the standards of broadcast TV (which some of us feared the mid-1990s panic might lead to) didn’t happen– at least not in the United States. But other forms of censorship have had a resurgence since then. That includes book censorship, which I largely treated in my exhibit as a relic of the past. “We used to ban books frequently years ago,” I implicitly argued in the exhibit, “and maybe there are still some isolated pockets of people trying to ban books even now. But we’ve moved beyond that today, and we enjoy a richer, freer culture because of that. So let’s not repeat our past mistakes on this new Internet”. That was the implication I had in mind.

But it’s become increasingly clear that my early optimism about the waning of book bans was misplaced. Book bans and ban attempts have surged in the US in recent years, particularly in schools (as PEN America documents) and libraries (as the American Library Association documents). As PEN America’s report notes, they’re now often not just isolated local affairs, but are driven by campaigns coordinated by nationally active advocacy groups. They’re often targeting books that feature LGBT viewpoints or that bring up issues of racism and injustice. They’re backed up by prominent politicians, some of whom proudly announce their intention to “ban critical race theory” (often defined vaguely enough to effectively mean “issues that make white people uncomfortable”) or to prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation beyond heterosexuality, or gender identities other than masculine and feminine ones assigned at birth.

In some cases, reports of attempts to ban specific famous titles in schools and libraries can increase their sales and visibility elsewhere. (Though in some cases, booksellers have also been threatened with prosecution for putting targeted titles on open shelves.) But broad ban lists, such as ones that cover hundreds of recent titles, can prevent many lesser-known books and authors from the chance to find their audience in the first place. They can discourage publishers from acquiring or releasing such books. They can also dissuade libraries from offering them, lest they get defunded if they carry books that some people don’t like.

My priorities for a banned books exhibit have changed accordingly. I want to draw attention to books under threat now, even when they’re not old enough to be in the public domain, and don’t have an authorized free online edition I can link to. I want to help people find copies they can read, in libraries and from booksellers, and I want to encourage support for those libraries and booksellers, so they hear from people who love the books and want to read them, and not just from those who want them gone. I want to show how and why books get targeted for bans both in the past and in the present, and understand the common themes that recur in these banning attempts, and in other manifestations of authoritarianism. And while library and school bans get the most press attention in the US, I also want to ensure that people don’t forget more pervasive book censorship in American prisons, and in other countries around the world. From a more technical standpoint, I’d also like to tap into the growth of linked open metadata to connect readers with information about books of interest to them, and with libraries that offer them.

So with that in mind, I’m now developing a new exhibit, Read Banned Books. I’m opening it to public preview on Banned Books Week 2022. It’s still under development, and I’ve just started to populate its collection, but it will grow over the course of this week and in the weeks that follow. The metadata and commentary in the collection will be shared on Github, and I hope it can be reused and applied in novel ways both by my site as it develops, and by others. While I don’t plan to try to make a comprehensive data set of all banned books and banning attempts, I do hope to highlight particularly important and interesting books and incidents, and to link to broader dossiers of censorship on other sites.

I invite you to check it out, and to let me know about useful things I can add to its knowledge base and functionality. And I hope you’ll be informed and active in resisting censorship and authoritarianism in this new era.

Posted in censorship, libraries, online books | Leave a comment

Public Domain Day 2022: Trespassers Will

The Piglet lived in a very grand house in the middle of a beech-tree, and the beech-tree was in the middle of the forest, and the Piglet lived in the middle of the house. Next to his house was a piece of broken board which had “TRESPASSERS W” on it. When Christopher Robin asked the Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, and had been in the family for a long time, Christopher Robin said you couldn’t be called Trespassers W, and Piglet said yes, you could, because his grandfather was, and it was short for Trespassers Will, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one–Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.

— A. A. Milne, “Winnie-the-Pooh”, now in the US public domain

It’s good to be celebrating another Public Domain Day. It’s especially good this year in the US, where we get an especially rich set of arrivals to the public domain. They include as many as 400,000 sound recordings from the invention of recording through the end of 1922. They also include many thousands of publications from 1926, including classics like Winnie-the-Pooh, quoted above. (See my just-finished public domain countdown for a selection of other interesting works joining the US public domain.) Most other countries have public domain arrivals to celebrate as well. In countries like those in Europe with “life+70 years” copyright terms, those include works of authors who died in 1951, and in countries like Canada that still have “life+50 years” terms, they include works of authors who died in 1971. (Some notable authors who died in those years are featured in the Public Domain Review’s Public Domain Day 2022 article.)

As I’ve thought about Winnie-the-Pooh today, I’ve been drawn back to the quote from it above. Much of Milne’s dry humor in it (and elsewhere in the book) was aimed at older readers, and flew over my head when I first read it as a child. I didn’t know that the “Trespassers W” sign was the remnant of someone trying to claim ownership over the land the characters inhabit. All of the characters in the book, likewise, are completely oblivious to that claim. They freely wander over the Hundred Acre Wood and surrounding countryside without any regard to private property claims. Instead, as seen above, they assume a completely different and absurd reason for the claim-staking sign.

Now that the book is in the public domain, we too can revisit and reuse the setting and characters of the book as we like. But the value of the intellectual property claims related to Winnie-the-Pooh make it important for us to watch our steps carefully. Pooh is one of the most valuable characters in the portfolio of the Walt Disney Company, and this book’s entry to the public domain was delayed 39 years, in part because of Disney’s lobbying of Congress. They still control rights to the designs of Pooh and friends in their animated cartoons (recognizably different from the original designs by Ernest Shepard), to the characters that don’t appear in the 1926 book (including Tigger, who shows up in its sequel), and to trademarks covering all manner of Pooh-related merchandise.

In a blog post at Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Jessica Jenkins discusses the rights Disney can still assert over Winnie the Pooh and friends. She also discusses how other rightsholders have wielded control over any use of characters that they claim is “too close” to their own expressions. For instance, the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle got Netflix to make a deal with them for the use of Sherlock Holmes, a character who’s long been in the public domain, over claims that their movie Enola Holmes reused copyrightable aspects of Holmes that only appear in the last few stories that were still under US copyright. The character copyright claims of the estate are dubious, but the estate’s been litigious enough that I could easily see how a filmmaker would prefer to settle with the estate rather than undergo a long and costly lawsuit, even if it were likely to eventually get a favorable ruling.

Similarly, it’s possible that Disney and other rightsholders could chill reuse of public domain works by making legal threats against anything they claim is “too similar” to their own products. Similar concerns over the character Bambi are a reason that new translations of Felix Salten’s original novel are only being released today, when it is finally unquestionably in the public domain in all major global markets. There are arguments to be made that Bambi has already been in the public domain for a few years at least, but due to the complicated litigation history, many have been reluctant to make use of the character until its 1926 US registration expired and made those arguments moot.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on that sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

— Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”, as published on his official website

What can we do to protect the public’s right to enjoy and reuse what’s rightfully theirs to use, when others want to monopolize them? For one, we can boldly and publicly make full use of the parts of our cultural heritage that are not truly covered by “No Trespassing” claims, the sides that, as the verse above says, were “made for you and me”. We can assert and exercise the right to use the public domain, even in the face of challenges to it. Whether those assertions result in court victories (which blunted even more expansive claims over Sherlock Holmes by the Conan Doyle estate in 2014), or in implicit peace treaties (like the willingness of Guthrie’s rightsholders to liberally license “This Land is Your Land” without admitting to public domain status), our affirmations of the public domain make it safer not only for us to use, but for others to use as well.

Affirming the public domain motivates projects like HathiTrust’s Copyright Review Program, the New York Public Library’s U.S. Copyright History Project, as well as Penn’s Deep Backfile Project for serials that I manage. We’re all trying to make it easier to identify and open access to works newer than 95 years old that are in the public domain (but not obviously so) so that people can feel more secure reproducing and reusing them.

Fair use is important to defend as well. I can quote the verse above from “This Land is Your Land”, despite it not being in the 1945 publication of the song that EFF has convincingly argued is in the public domain, and despite often-repeated folk advice to never quote song lyrics without permission. I’m using a limited portion of the song analytically to help make a point in my argument about public rights, and my use is not likely to substitute for, or hurt the market for, the song itself. (Guthrie’s own words also suggest he’d be happy with my use.) In other words, I’m exercising fair use. And when we exercise fair use, we keep it from atrophying, and preserve it as an “essential part of our political and cultural life”, and an important protection of free expression.

We also may need to work to protect all the sound recordings that just entered the public domain from claims that now have no more validity than the remnants of the sign outside Piglet’s door. Many of the major Internet platforms have mechanisms to automatically flag audio that seems to be derived from commercial recordings, and block them, demonetize them, and impose copyright strikes against the people who post them, Up until now, platforms could generally safely assume that recordings that have ever had a valid copyright claimant always have one. But now there are hundreds of thousands of recordings that once had a claimant, but now belong to the public at large. We need to make sure that platforms recognize and respect those new public rights. If past experience is any guide, public vigilance and outcry over improper takedowns will help ensure that happens.

This Public Domain Day gives us much to celebrate, and to use, in all kinds of educational, entertaining, and creative ways. To make the most of it, we have to resolve and work to protect it from those who would try to monopolize public rights for themselves. While some may still call us “trespassers” when we make full use of public domain, fair use, and other public rights, our will to persist in those uses helps bring the copyright system into a healthier balance, promoting the well-being of creators and audiences alike.

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Coming soon to the public domain in 2022

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 (Some copyright nerdery: I found no © renewal for Clouds, but its 1926 British publication preceded the 1st US edition, which came out in 1927, by more than 30 days, making its copyright likely revived by URAA. I’m assuming that 1926 publication marks the restored term start.)

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 (Note: As in general with my other posts under this hashtag, I’m referring to US copyrights here. In Britain, where Wells and Belloc published their argument, Wells’s copyrights expired a few years ago, while Belloc’s will last a couple more years after this January 1.)

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. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

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

December 4: An Englishwoman moves to the country to escape her relatives, and takes up witchcraft. Robert McCrum in 2014 counted Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes among the “100 best novels”. It joins the US public domain in 4 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 5: In 1926, US Baptist churches were divided not only between north and south, but also in music styles. William H. Main and I. J. Van Ness’s 1926 New Baptist Hymnal, meant to bring them together, becomes public domain in 27 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 6: The 1926 musical The Girl Friend boosted the careers of writers Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, & Herbert Fields, on their way to being Broadway legends, and introduced the song “Blue Room”. It joins the public domain in 26 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 7: Charles E. King did much to raise awareness of Hawaiian music in the rest of the world. The 6th edition of his Hawaiian Melodies, which includes “Ke Kali Nei Au” (aka the Hawaiian Wedding Song) becomes public domain in 25 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 8: Thanks to @OnlineCrsLady for suggesting a #PublicDomainDayCountdown book that was itself built from the public domain of the time: Muriel St. Clare Byrne edited The Elizabethan Zoo, a collection drawn from early 17th century books, and published it in 1926. Its US copyright ends in 24 days.

December 9: Joseph Conrad died in 1924, but some of his posthumously published work remains copyrighted for 23 more days. That includes the collection Last Essays, edited by Richard Curle, which has a reprint of his Congo diaries behind his Heart of Darkness. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 10: Readers keep rediscovering Hope Mirrlees’s unconventional fantasy Lud-in-the-Mist. First published in 1926, republished in 1970 by Lin Carter, and more recently brought back to wide attention by Neil Gaiman, it’ll reach the US public domain in 22 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (Copyright nerdery: The only US Ⓒ registration I can find for Lud-in-the-Mist is dated 1927, and that registration is unrenewed. I’m assuming GATT restored its copyright based on its prior 1926 UK publication, and that it will expire at the same time as other 1926 copyrights.)

December 11: In 3 weeks, Moana (not the Disney movie, but a feature film by Robert J. Flaherty that was the first to be called a “documentary”) will join the public domain. Wikipedia describes some of its innovations and fictionalizations. #PublicDomainDayCountdown See also this longer profile of the movie by Nathanael Hood, including more on a restored version with added sound made by the original director’s daughter Monica Flaherty.

December 12: “The Birth of the Blues” by Ray Henderson, B. G. DeSylva, & Lew Brown debuted in George White’s Scandals of 1926, but has been recorded many times since, including in the 1941 Bing Crosby movie of the same title. It joins the public domain in 20 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 13: The University of Virginia Library has the papers of Rosalie Caden Evans, a prominent figure in land disputes in Mexico who was killed in 1924. A book of her letters, published by her sister, joins the public domain in 19 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown The copyright status of her other letters is trickier to determine. Any not published before 2003 are in the public domain now. Any that were first published before then, but after 1926, such as in this book, may remain copyrighted for years to come.

December 14: Not just a wisecracker, WC Fields was an accomplished juggler and physical comedian. Steve Massa calls So’s Your Old Man “the best” of Fields’ surviving silent films. This #NatFilmRegistry film joins the public domain in 18 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown Another 1926 film was added to the #NatFilmRegistry today: The Flying Ace. As far as I can tell, this one’s already public domain; I’m not finding a copyright renewal for it. (Lots of 1926 African American works are public domain due to nonrenewal.)

December 15: C. K. Scott Moncrieff, the first translator of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (as he titled it), also did what’s probably the most-read English translation of Stendhal’s classic novel The Red and the Black. It joins the public domain in 17 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 16: Arturo Toscanini was already a world-renowned conductor when he made his first orchestral recordings for Victor in 1920 and 1921. Peter Gutmann calls them still “highly listenable today”: They join the public domain in 16 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 17: When Georgette Heyer started on a sequel to her first novel The Black Moth, she realized she could do better, and reworked the characters to produce These Old Shades. It was a career-making bestseller, and in 15 days it’ll be public domain in the US. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 18: Written for Betsy, a musical few now remember, Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” has since been featured in The Jazz Singer, White Christmas, and more than one Star Trek production. It’s nothing but public domain in 2 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 19: The Poetry Foundation profiles Hart Crane‘s too-short poetic career, which has garnered lasting interest in modernist, Romantic, and queer circles. His first collection, White Buildings, joins the public domain in 13 days,

December 20: Enid Blyton’s children’s books have been reissued and revised many times, but older editions are starting to join the public domain in the US. The 1st edition of her Book of Brownies, illustrated by Ernest Aris, does in 12 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 21: In 1926, not only was Pluto undiscovered, but astronomers like Harlow Shapley had only just come around to the idea of other galaxies. You can see how far astronomy’s come since, when his popular science book Starlight goes public domain in 11 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 22: American amateur detective Philo Vance debuts in The Benson Murder Case, based loosely on a real-life case. The novel, by S. S. Van Dine (pen name of art critic Willard Huntington Wright), debuts in the public domain in 10 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 23:Crazy Blues“, recorded by Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds in 1920, was a smash hit that persuaded big record companies to promote Black singers and genres. It, and other pre-1923 blues records, join the public domain in 9 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 24: English Christmas carol fans will appreciate William Adair Pickard-Cambridge’s 1926 Collection of Dorset Carols, which first published “Shepherds Arise” and popularized “Angels We Have Heard on High” in English. It joins the US public domain in 8 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 25: Barbara Dyer writes of her great-aunt Mary Christmas, an immigrant from Syria: Fictionalized, she was the title character of a book by Mary Ellen Chase described here. It joins the public domain in 7 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 26: Greta Garbo began her film career in Sweden, but became a movie star in the US in 1926. Her first US film, Torrent, looks to be in the public domain for lack of a copyright renewal. Her second, The Temptress, joins the public domain in 6 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 27:
for life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
– from E. E. Cummings’ poem “since feeling is first”, in his poetry collection is 5, which today is 5 days from the public domain. More on his work here. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 28: One feature of the US’s older publication-based copyright terms is that book texts & illustrations usually go public domain at the same time. So we get Olive Miller’s and Maud and Miska Petersham’s work in Tales Told in Holland all at once in 4 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 29: Fritzi Kramer writes on The Winning of Barbara Worth, a silent western featuring Gary Cooper’s first major role, and a memorable climactic flood sequence. In 3 days it’ll be in a flood of arrivals to the public domain from 1926. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 30: If you’re celebrating on New Years Eve, consider playing the Peerless Quartet’s “Auld Lang Syne” just after midnight. This recording will have just entered the public domain, along with an estimated 400,000 more pre-1923 records. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 31: Joan Didion said Ernest Hemingway “changed the rhythms of the way both his own and the next few generations would speak and write and think.” His first full-length novel The Sun Also Rises will be ours in the public domain when the sun rises tomorrow. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

Posted in adventcalendar, copyright, open access, publicdomain | 1 Comment

Public Domain Day 2021: Honoring a lost generation

It’s Public Domain Day again. In much of Europe, and other countries with “life+70 years” copyright terms, works by authors who died in 1950, such as George Orwell, Karin Michaelis, George Bernard Shaw, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, have joined the public domain. Canada, and other countries that still have the Berne Convention’s “life+50 years” copyright terms, get works by authors like E. M. Forster, Nelly Sachs, Bertrand Russell, Elsa Triolet, and other authors who died in 1970 in the public domain. And in the United States, copyrights from 1925 that are still in force have expired, introducing to the public domain a wide variety of works I’ve covered in my prior blog post. The new public domain work that I’ve seen most widely noted is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby. My library has a copy of the first edition, and its scan of the volume became available on HathiTrust today.

Though he doesn’t use the term in Gatsby, Fitzgerald and many other authors writing around 1925 are often considered both members and chroniclers of the “Lost Generation”. The term was coined by Gertrude Stein, and made famous by Ernest Hemingway, who used it in the epigraph to his novel The Sun Also Rises (one of many more works scheduled to join the US public domain a year from now). The Lost Generation describes an age cohort that was disrupted by the First World War, and all the deaths caused by that war and by the influenza pandemic that arose in its wake. Society would never be the same afterwards.

It’s ironic that some of the definitive creations of that generation are themselves part of a largely lost generation. At the time of their publication, they were supposed to enter the public domain after 56 years at most, but that maximum term has been extended by 39 more years, well over a generation’s worth of time. The creators of these works that got the full copyright term are almost all now dead, and many of the less famous works in this cohort have also become lost from most people’s memories. Some, including many fragile films of that era, now have all copies lost as well.

The generation that now sees these works joining the public domain also has many of the makings of a new “lost generation”. The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, which badly botched its response compared to many similar countries, far exceeds the number of American deaths in World War I, and is a sizable and rapidly growing fraction of all the American deaths from the 1918-1920 flu pandemic. Many more people who have dealt with illness and quarantine have also experienced what feels like a lost year, one that hasn’t ended yet despite today’s change in the calendar.

But it’s also important to recognize the key role of the public domain and of open access publications in preventing further loss. While Philadelphia, where I live, has been hit hard by this pandemic, it hasn’t been hit as hard as some other places, in part because masking and other behavioral changes have been more widely used and accepted here. Not long before the current pandemic started, the Mutter Museum’s Spit Spreads Death exhibit reminded us of the horrifying death toll of the 1918 flu pandemic here, caused in large part by failing to stop mass gatherings that made the flu spread like wildfire here. The exhibit’s narrative, which many other local media outlets further elaborated on, was able to freely draw on a wide variety of source materials of the era that were all in the public domain due to their age. The freely available sources from 1918 helped spread public health awareness here in 2020.

Open access to resources also spurred the rapid development and testing of effective treatments against COVID. Open sharing of the novel coronavirus genomes, and related scientific data, enabled research on the virus and effective responses to be carried out by many different labs across the globe, and many of the resulting research papers and research materials have also been made freely available in venues that are usually limited to paid subscribers. While much of this work is not public domain, strictly speaking, it is being shared and built on largely as if it were. That has enabled vaccines to be safely rolled out much more quickly than they have been for other diseases.

While we celebrate today’s belated additions to the public domain, it’s also important to promote and protect it, because there are still efforts to freeze it or roll it back. The successor to the NAFTA trade deal requires Canada to add 20 years to its copyright terms, for instance (though Canada has not yet implemented that provision). And while there is no current legislation to extend US copyright terms any further, such extensions have been proposed in the past, and we’ve just seen in Congress’s recent funding bill how questionable changes to copyright law can be jammed into “must-pass” legislation with little or no warning or recourse.

The public domain enriches our culture, reminds us and lets us learn from our past, and helps us make better futures. As 2021 gives us opportunities to turn the page, let’s celebrate the new opportunities we have to enjoy, share, reuse, and build on our newly public domain works. And let’s make sure we don’t lose any more generations.

Posted in online books, open access, publicdomain | 3 Comments

Counting down to 1925 in the public domain

We’re rapidly approaching another Public Domain Day, the day at the start of the year when a year’s worth of creative work joins the public domain. This will be the third year in a row that the US will have a full crop of new public domain works (after a prior 20-year drought), and once again, I’m noting and celebrating works that will be entering the public domain shortly. Approaching 2019, I wrote a one-post-a-day Advent Calendar for 1923 works throughout the month of December, and approaching 2020, I highlighted a few 1924 works, and related copyright issues, in a series of December posts called 2020 Vision.

This year I took to Twitter, making one tweet per day featuring a different 1925 work and creator using the #PublicDomainDayCountdown hashtag. Tweets are shorter than blog posts, but I started 99 days out, so by the time I finish the series at the end of December, I’ll have written short notices on more works than ever. 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 has been updated to include all the tweets up to 2021, and in 2021 has been further updated to link to copies of some of the featured works.) 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.)

September 24: It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. His best-known book, The Great Gatsby, joins the US public domain 99 days from now, along with other works with active 1925 copyrights. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (Links to free online books by Fitzgerald here.)

September 25: C. K. Scott-Moncrieff’s birthday’s today. He translated Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (a controversial title, as the Public Domain Review notes). The Guermantes Way, his translation of Proust’s 3rd volume, joins the US public domain in 98 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

September 26: Today is T.S. Eliot’s birthday. His poem “The Hollow Men” (which ends “…not with a bang but a whimper”) was first published in full in 1925, & joins the US public domain in 97 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown More by & about him here.

September 27: Lady Cynthia Asquith, born today in 1887, edited a number of anthologies that have long been read by children and fans of fantasy and supernatural fiction. Her first major collection, The Flying Carpet, joins the US public domain in 96 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

September 28: As @Marketplace reported tonight, Agatha Christie’s mysteries remain popular after 100 years. In 95 days, her novel The Secret of Chimneys will join the US public domain, as will the expanded US Poirot Investigates collection. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

September 29: Homer Hockett’s and Arthur Schlesinger, Sr.’s Political and Social History of the United States first came out in 1925, and was an influential college textbook for years thereafter. The first edition joins the public domain in 94 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

September 30: Inez Haynes Gillmore Irwin died 50 years ago this month, after a varied, prolific writing career. This 2012 blog post looks at 4 of her books, including Gertrude Haviland’s Divorce, which joins the public domain in 93 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 1: For some, spooky stories and themes aren’t just for October, but for the whole year. We’ll be welcoming a new year’s worth of Weird Tales to the public domain in 3 months. See what’s coming, and what’s already free online, here. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 2: Misinformation and quackery has been a threat to public health for a long time. In 13 weeks, the 1925 book The Patent Medicine and the Public Health, by American quack-fighter Arthur J. Cramp joins the public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 3: Sophie Treadwell, born this day in 1885, was a feminist, modernist playwright with several plays produced on Broadway, but many of her works are now hard to find. Her 1925 play “Many Mansions” joins the public domain in 90 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 4: It’s Edward Stratemeyer’s birthday. Books of his syndicate joining the public domain in 89 days include the debuts of Don Sturdy & the Blythe Girls, & further adventures of Tom Swift, Ruth Fielding, Baseball Joe, Betty Gordon, the Bobbsey Twins, & more. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 5: Russell Wilder was a pioneering diabetes doctor, testing newly invented insulin treatments that saved many patients’ lives. His 1925 book Diabetes: Its Cause and its Treatment with Insulin joins the public domain in 88 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 6: Queer British Catholic author Radclyffe Hall is best known for The Well of Loneliness. Hall’s earlier novel A Saturday Life is lighter, though it has some similar themes in subtext. It joins the US public domain in 87 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 7: Edgar Allan Poe’s stories have long been public domain, but some work unpublished when he died (on this day in 1849) stayed in © much longer. In 86 days, the Valentine Museum’s 1925 book of his previously unpublished letters finally goes public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 8: In 1925, the Nobel Prize in Literature went to George Bernard Shaw. In 85 days, his Table-Talk, published that year, will join the public domain in the US, and all his solo works published in his lifetime will be public domain nearly everywhere else. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 9: Author and editor Edward Bok was born this day in 1863. In Twice Thirty (1925), he follows up his Pulitzer-winning memoir The Americanization of Edward Bok with a set of essays from the perspective of his 60s. It joins the public domain in 84 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 10: In the 1925 silent comedy “The Freshman”, Harold Lloyd goes to Tate University, “a large football stadium with a college attached”, and goes from tackling dummy to unlikely football hero. It joins the public domain in 83 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 11: It’s François Mauriac’s birthday. His Le Desert de l’Amour, a novel that won the 1926 Grand Prix of the Académie Française, joins the US public domain in 82 days. Published translations may stay copyrighted, but Americans will be free to make new ones. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 12: Pulitzer-winning legal scholar Charles Warren’s Congress, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court (1925) analyzes controversies, some still argued, over relations between the US legislature and the US judiciary. It joins the public domain in 81 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 13: Science publishing in 1925 was largely a boys’ club, but some areas were more open to women authors, such as nursing & science education. I look forward to Maude Muse’s Textbook of Psychology for Nurses going public domain in 80 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #AdaLovelaceDay

October 14: Happy birthday to poet E. E. Cummings, born this day in 1894. (while some of his poetry is lowercase he usually still capitalized his name when writing it out) His collection XLI Poems joins the public domain in 79 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 15: It’s PG Wodehouse’s birthday. In 78 days more of his humorous stories join the US public domain, including Sam in the Suburbs. It originally ran as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in 1925. All that year’s issues also join the public domain then. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 16: Playwright and Nobel laureate Eugene O’Neill was born today in 1888. His “Desire Under the Elms” entered the US public domain this year; in 77 days, his plays “Marco’s Millions” and “The Great God Brown” will join it. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 17: Not everything makes it to the end of the long road to the US public domain. In 76 days, the copyright for the film Man and Maid (based on a book by Elinor Glyn) expires, but no known copies survive. Maybe someone will find one? #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 18: Corra Harris became famous for her novel A Circuit Rider’s Wife and her World War I reporting. The work she considered her best, though, was As a Woman Thinks. It joins the public domain in 75 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 19: Edna St. Vincent Millay died 70 years ago today. All her published work joins the public domain in 74 days in many places outside the US. Here, magazine work like “Sonnet to Gath” (in Sep 1925 Vanity Fair) will join, but renewed post-’25 work stays in ©. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 20: All songs eventually reach the public domain. Authors can put them there themselves, like Tom Lehrer just did for his lyrics. But other humorous songs arrive by the slow route, like Tilzer, Terker, & Heagney’s “Pardon Me (While I Laugh)” will in 73 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 21: Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio wasn’t a best-seller when it came out, but his Dark Laughter was. Since Joycean works fell out of fashion, that book’s been largely forgotten, but may get new attention when it joins the public domain in 72 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 22: Artist NC Wyeth was born this day in 1882. The Brandywine Museum near Philadelphia shows many of his works. His illustrated edition of Francis Parkman’s book The Oregon Trail joins the public domain in 71 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 23: Today (especially at 6:02, on 10/23) many chemists celebrate #MoleDay. In 70 days, they’ll also get to celebrate historically important chemistry publications joining the US public domain, including all 1925 issues of Justus Liebigs Annalen der Chemie. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 24: While some early Alfred Hitchcock films were in the US public domain for a while due to formality issues, the GATT accords restored their copyrights. His directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden, rejoins the public domain (this time for good) in 69 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (Addendum: There may still be one more year of copyright to this film as of 2021; see the comments to this post for details.)

October 25: Albert Barnes took a different approach to art than most of his contemporaries. The first edition of The Art in Painting, where he explains his theories and shows examples from his collection, joins the public domain in 68 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 26: Prolific writer Carolyn Wells had a long-running series of mystery novels featuring Fleming Stone. Here’s a blog post by The Passing Tramp on one of them, The Daughter of the House, which will join the public domain in 67 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 27: Theodore Roosevelt was born today in 1858, and died over 100 years ago, but some of his works are still copyrighted. In 66 days, 2 volumes of his correspondence with Henry Cabot Lodge, written from 1884-1918 and published in 1925, join the public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 28: American composer and conductor Howard Hanson was born on this day in 1896. His choral piece “Lament for Beowulf” joins the public domain in 65 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 29: “Skitter Cat” was a white Persian cat who had adventures in several children’s books by Eleanor Youmans, illustrated by Ruth Bennett. The first of the books joins the public domain in 64 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown #NationalCatDay

October 30:Secret Service Smith” was a detective created by Canadian author R. T. M. Maitland. His first magazine appearance was in 1920; his first original full-length novel, The Black Magician, joins the public domain in 9 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

October 31: Poet John Keats was born this day in 1795. Amy Lowell’s 2-volume biography links his Romantic poetry with her Imagist poetry. (1 review.) She finished and published it just before she died. It joins the public domain in 62 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 1: “Not just for an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but always.” Irving Berlin gave the rights to this song to his bride in 1926. Both are gone now, and in 2 months it will join the public domain for all of us, always. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 2: Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan dance, set to music by Camille Saint-Saëns, premiered in 1905, but its choreography wasn’t published until 1925, the same year a film of it was released. It joins the public domain in 60 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (Choreography copyright is weird. Not only does the term not start until publication, which can be long after 1st performance, but what’s copyrightable has also changed. Before 1978 it had to qualify as dramatic; now it doesn’t, but it has to be more than a short step sequence.)

November 3: Herbert Hoover was the only sitting president to be voted out of office between 1912 & 1976. Before taking office, he wrote the foreword to Carolyn Crane’s Everyman’s House, part of a homeowners’ campaign he co-led. It goes out of copyright in 59 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 4:The Golden Cocoon” is a 1925 silent melodrama featuring an election, jilted lovers, and extortion. The Ruth Cross novel it’s based on went public domain this year. The film will join it there in 58 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 5: Investigative journalist Ida Tarbell was born today in 1857. Her History of Standard Oil helped break up that trust in 1911, but her Life of Elbert H. Gary wrote more admiringly of his chairmanship of US Steel. It joins the public domain in 57 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 6: Harold Ross was born on this day in 1892. He was the first editor of The New Yorker, which he established in coöperation with his wife, Jane Grant. After ninety-five years, the magazine’s first issues are set to join the public domain in fifty-six days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 7: “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Ben Bernie & Maceo Pinkard (lyrics by Kenneth Casey) is a jazz standard, the theme tune of the Harlem Globetrotters, and a song often played in celebration. One thing we can celebrate in 55 days is it joining the public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 8: Today I hiked on the Appalachian Trail. It was completed in 1937, but parts are much older. Walter Collins O’Kane’s Trails and Summits of the White Mountains, published in 1925 when the AT was more idea than reality, goes public domain in 54 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 9: In Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith, a brilliant medical researcher deals with personal and ethical issues as he tries to find a cure for a deadly epidemic. The novel has stayed relevant well past its 1925 publication, and joins the public domain in 53 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 10: John Marquand was born today in 1893. He’s known for his spy stories and satires, but an early novel, The Black Cargo, features a sailor curious about a mysterious payload on a ship he’s been hired onto. It joins the US public domain in 52 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 11: The first world war, whose armistice was 102 years ago today, cast a long shadow. Among the many literary works looking back to it is Ford Madox Ford’s novel No More Parades, part of his “Parade’s End” tetralogy. It joins the public domain in 51 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 12: Anne Parrish was born on this day in 1888. In 1925, The Dream Coach, co-written with her brother, got a Newbery honor , and her novel The Perennial Bachelor was a best-seller. The latter book joins the public domain in 50 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 13: In “The Curse of the Golden Cross”, G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown once again finds a natural explanation to what seem to be preternatural symbols & events. As of today, Friday the 13th, the 1925 story is exactly 7 weeks away from the US public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 14: The pop standard “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” was the baby of Walter Donaldson (music) and Gus Kahn (lyrics). It’s been performed by many artists since its composition, and in 48 days, this baby steps out into the public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 15: Marianne Moore, born on this day in 1887, had a long literary career, including editing the influential modernist magazine The Dial from 1925 on. In 47 days, all 1925 issues of that magazine will be fully in the public domain. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 16: George S. Kaufman, born today in 1889, wrote or directed a play in every Broadway season from 1921 till 1958. In 46 days, several of his plays join the public domain, including his still-performed comedy “The Butter and Egg Man”. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 17: Shen of the Sea was a Newbery-winning collection of stories presented as “Chinese” folktales, but written by American author Arthur Bowie Chrisman. Praised when first published, seen more as appropriation later, it’ll be appropriable itself in 45 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 18: Jacques Maritain was a French Catholic philosopher who influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His book on 3 reformers (Luther, Descartes, and Rousseau) joins the public domain in 44 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 19: Prevailing views of history change a lot over 95 years. The 1926 Pulitzer history prize went to a book titled “The War for Southern Independence”. The last volume of Edward Channing’s History of the United States, it joins the public domain in 43 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 20: Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World includes a nuanced discussion of science and religion differing notably from many of his contemporaries’. (A recent review of it.) It joins the US public domain in 6 weeks.

November 21: Algonquin Round Table member Robert Benchley tried reporting, practical writing, & reviews, but soon found that humorous essays & stories were his forte. One early collection, Pluck and Luck, joins the public domain in 41 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 22: I’ve often heard people coming across a piano sit down & pick out Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul”. He also had other hits, one being “Washboard Blues“. His original piano instrumental version becomes public domain in 40 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 23: Harpo Marx, the Marx Brothers mime, was born today in 1888. In his oldest surviving film, “Too Many Kisses” he does “speak”, but silently (like everyone else in it), without his brothers. It joins the public domain in 39 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 24: In The Man Nobody Knows, Bruce Barton likened the world of Jesus to the world of business. Did he bring scriptural insight to management, or subordinate Christianity to capitalism? It’ll be easier to say, & show, after it goes public domain in 38 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 25: Before Virgil Thomson (born today in 1896) was well-known as a composer, he wrote a music column for Vanity Fair. His first columns, and the rest of Vanity Fair for 1925, join the public domain in 37 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 26: “Each moment that we’re apart / You’re never out of my heart / I’d rather be lonely and wait for you only / Oh how I miss you tonight” Those staying safe by staying apart this holiday might appreciate this song, which joins the public domain in 36 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (The song, “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight” is by Benny Davis, Joe Burke, and Mark Fisher, was published in 1925, and performed and recorded by many musicians since then, some of whom are mentioned in this Wikipedia article.)

November 27: Feminist author Katharine Anthony, born today in 1877, was best known for her biographies. Her 1925 biography of Catherine the Great, which drew extensively on the empress’s private memoirs, joins the public domain in 35 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 28: Tonight in 1925 “Barn Dance” (soon renamed “Grand Ole Opry”) debuted in Nashville. Most country music on it & similar shows then were old favorites, but there were new hits too, like “The Death of Floyd Collins”, which joins the public domain in 34 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (The song, with words by Andrew Jenkins and music by John Carson, was in the line of other disaster ballads that were popular in the 1920s. This particular disaster had occurred earlier in the year, and became the subject of song, story, drama, and film.)

November 29: As many folks get ready for Christmas, many Christmas-themed works are also almost ready to join the public domain in 33 days. One is The Holly Hedge, and Other Christmas Stories by Temple Bailey. More on the book & author. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

November 30: In 1925 John Maynard Keynes published The Economic Consequences of Sterling Parity objecting to Winston Churchill returning the UK to the gold standard. That policy ended in 1931; the book’s US copyright lasted longer, but will finally end in 32 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 1: Du Bose Heyward’s novel Porgy has a distinguished legacy of adaptations, including a 1927 Broadway play, and Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess”. When the book joins the public domain a month from now, further adaptation possibilities are limitless. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 2: In Dorothy Black’s Romance — The Loveliest Thing a young Englishwoman “inherits a small sum of money, buys a motor car and goes off in search of adventure and romance”. First serialized in Ladies’ Home Journal, it joins the public domain in 30 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 3: Joseph Conrad was born on this day in 1857, and died in 1924, leaving unfinished his Napoleonic novel Suspense. But it was still far enough along to get serialized in magazines and published as a book in 1925, and it joins the public domain in 29 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 4: Ernest Hemingway’s first US-published story collection In Our Time introduced his distinctive style to an American audience that came to view his books as classics of 20th century fiction: It joins the public domain in 28 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 5: Libertarian author Rose Wilder Lane helped bring her mother’s “Little House” fictionalized memoirs into print. Before that, she published biographical fiction based on the life of Jack London, called He Was a Man. It joins the public domain in 27 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 6: Indiana naturalist and author Gene Stratton-Porter died on this day in 1924. Her final novel, The Keeper of the Bees, was published the following year, and joins the public domain in 26 days. One review. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 7: Willa Cather was born today in 1873. Her novel The Professor’s House depicts 1920s cultural dislocation from a different angle than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s better-known Great Gatsby. It too joins the public domain in 25 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 8: The last symphony published by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (born on this day in 1865) is described in the Grove Dictionary as his “most remarkable compositional achievement”. It joins the public domain in the US in 24 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 9: When the Habsburg Empire falls, what comes next for the people & powers of Vienna? The novel Old Wine, by Phyllis Bottome (wife of the local British intelligence head) depicts a society undergoing rapid change. It joins the US public domain in 23 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 10: Lewis Browne was “a world traveler, author, rabbi, former rabbi, lecturer, socialist and friend of the literary elite”. His first book, Stranger than Fiction: A Short History of the Jews, joins the public domain in 22 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 11: In 1925, John Scopes was convicted for teaching evolution in Tennessee. Books explaining the science to lay audiences were popular that year, including Henshaw Ward’s Evolution for John Doe. It becomes public domain in 3 weeks. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 12: Philadelphia artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris was best known for his “Pageant of a Nation” paintings. Three of them, “The Birth of Pennsylvania”, “Gettysburg, 1863”, and “The Mayflower Compact”, join the public domain in 20 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 13: The Queen of Cooks, and Some Kings was a memoir of London hotelier Rosa Lewis, as told to Mary Lawton. Her life story was the basis for the BBC and PBS series “The Duchess of Duke Street”. It joins the public domain in 19 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 14: Today we’re celebrating new films being added to the National Film Registry. In 18 days, we can also celebrate more Registry films joining the public domain. One is The Clash of the Wolves, starring Rin Tin Tin. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 15: Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, daughter of a high-ranking Japanese official, moved to the US in an arranged marriage after her family fell on hard times. Her 1925 memoir, A Daughter of the Samurai, joins the public domain in 17 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 16: On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs compiled by Dorothy Scarborough assisted by Ola Lee Gulledge, has over 100 songs. Scarborough’s next of kin (not Gulledge, or any of their sources) renewed its copyright in 1953. But in 16 days, it’ll be free for all. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 17: Virginia Woolf’s writings have been slowly entering the public domain in the US. We’ve had the first part of her Mrs. Dalloway for a while. The complete novel, and her first Common Reader essay collection, join it in 15 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 18: Lovers in Quarantine with Harrison Ford sounds like a movie made for 2020, but it’s actually a 1925 silent comedy (with a different Harrison Ford). It’ll be ready to go out into the public domain after a 14-day quarantine. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 19: Ma Rainey wrote, sang, and recorded many blues songs in a multi-decade career. Two of her songs becoming public domain in 13 days are “Shave ’em Dry” (written with William Jackson) & “Army Camp Harmony Blues” (with Hooks Tilford). #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 20: For years we’ve celebrated the works of prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton as her stories join the public domain. In 12 days, The Writing of Fiction, her book on how she writes her memorable tales, will join that company. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 21: Albert Payson Terhune, born today in 1872, raised and wrote about dogs he kept at what’s now a public park in New Jersey. His book about Wolf, who died heroically and is buried there, will also be in the public domain in 11 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 22: In the 1920s it seemed Buster Keaton could do anything involving movies. Go West, a 1925 feature film that he co-wrote, directed, co-produced, and starred in, is still enjoyed today, and it joins the public domain in 10 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 23: In 9 days, not only will Theodore Dreiser’s massive novel An American Tragedy be in the public domain, but so will a lot of the raw material that went into it. Much of it is in @upennlib‘s special collections. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 24: Johnny Gruelle, born today in 1880, created the Raggedy Ann doll, and a series of books sold with it that went under many Christmas trees. Two of them, Raggedy Ann’s Alphabet Book and Raggedy Ann’s Wishing Pebble, join the public domain in 8 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 25: Written in Hebrew by Joseph Klausner, translated into English by Anglican priest Herbert Danby, Jesus of Nazareth reviewed Jesus’s life and teachings from a Jewish perspective. It made a stir when published in 1925, & joins the public domain in 7 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 26: “It’s a travesty that this wonderful, hilarious, insightful book lives under the inconceivably large shadow cast by The Great Gatsby.” A review of Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, also joining the public domain in 6 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 27: “On revisiting Manhattan Transfer, I came away with an appreciation not just for the breadth of its ambition, but also for the genius of its representation.” A review of the John Dos Passos novel becoming public domain in 5 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 28: All too often legal systems and bureaucracies can be described as “Kafkaesque”. The Kafka work most known for that sense of arbitrariness and doom is Der Prozess (The Trial), reviewed here. It joins the public domain in 4 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 29: Chocolate Kiddies, an African American music and dance revue that toured Europe in 1925, featured songs by Duke Ellington and Jo Trent including “Jig Walk”, “Jim Dandy”, and “With You”. They join the public domain in 3 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

December 30: Lon Chaney starred in 2 of the top-grossing movies of 1925. The Phantom of the Opera has long been in the public domain due to copyright nonrenewal. The Unholy Three, which was renewed, joins it in the public domain in 2 days. #PublicDomainDayCountdown (If you’re wondering why some of the other big film hits of 1925 haven’t been in this countdown, in many cases it’s also because their copyrights weren’t renewed. Or they weren’t actually copyrighted in 1925.)

December 31: “…You might as well live.” Dorothy Parker published “Resumé” in 1925, and ultimately outlived most of her Algonquin Round Table-mates. This poem, and her other 1925 writing for periodicals, will be in the public domain tomorrow. #PublicDomainDayCountdown

Posted in copyright, publicdomain | 3 Comments

Everybody’s Library Questions: Finding films in the public domain

Welcome to another installment of Everybody’s Library Questions, where I give answers to questions people ask me (in comments or email) that seem to be useful for general consumption.

Before I start, though, I want to put in a plug for your local librarians.  Even though many library buildings are closed now (as they should be) while we’re trying to get propagation and treatment for COVID-19 under control, many of those libraries offer online services, including interactive online help from librarians. (Many of our libraries are also expanding the scope and hours of these services during this health crisis.)   Your local librarians will have the best knowledge of what’s available to you, can find out more about your needs when they talk to you, and will usually be able to respond to questions faster than I or other specific folks on the Internet can. Check out your favorite library’s website, and look for links like “get help” or “online chat” and see what they offer.

OK, now here’s the question, extracted from a comment made by Nicholas Escobar to a recent post:

I am currently studying at the University of Edinburgh getting masters degree in film composition. For my final project I am required to score a 15 minute film. I was thinking of picking a short silent film (any genre) in the public domain that is 15 minutes (or very close to that length) and was wondering if you had any suggestions?

There are three questions implied by this one: First, how do you find out what films exist that meet your content criteria?  Second, how do you find out whether films in that set are in the public domain?  Finally, how can you get access to a film so you can do things with it (such as write a score for it)?

There are a few ways you can come up with films to consider.  One is to ask your local librarian (see above) or professor to recommend reference works or data sources that feature short films.  (Information about feature films, which run longer, are often easier to find, but there’s a fair bit out there as well on short films.)  Another is to search some of the reference works and online data sources I’ll mention in the other answers below.

The answer to the copyright question depends on where you are.  In the United States, there are basically three categories of public domain films:

That’s the situation in the United States, at least.  However, if you’re not in the United States, different rules may apply.  In Edinburgh and elsewhere in the United Kingdom (and in most of the rest of Europe), works are generally copyrighted until the end of the 70th year after the death of the last author.  In the UK, the authors of a film are considered to be the principal director, the screenwriter(s), and the composer(s).  (For more specifics, see the relevant portion of UK law.)  However, some countries will also let the copyrights of foreign works expire when they do in their country of origin, and in those a US film that’s in the public domain in the US would also be public domain in those countries.  As you can see in the UK law section I link to, the UK does apply such a “rule of the shorter term” to films from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), if none of the authors are EEA nationals.  So you might be good to go in the UK with many, but not all, US films that are public domain in the US.  (I’m not a UK copyright expert, though; you might want to talk to one to be sure.)

Let’s suppose you’ve come up with some suitable possible films, either ones that are in the public domain, ones that have suitable Creative Commons licenses or you can otherwise get permission to score, or ones that are in-copyright but that you could score in the context of a study project, even if you couldn’t publish the resulting audiovisual work.  (Educational fair use is a thing, though its scope also varies from country to country.  Here a guide from the British Library on how it works in the UK.)  We then move on to the last question: How do you get hold of a copy so you can write a score for it?

The answer to that question depends on your situation.  Right now, the situation for many of us is that we’re stuck at home, and can’t visit libraries or archives in person.  (And our ability to get physical items like DVDs or videotapes may be limited too.)  So for now, you may be limited to films you can obtain online.  There are various free sources of public domain films: I’ve already mentioned the Internet Archive, whose moving image archive includes many films that are in the public domain (and many that are not, so check rights before choosing one to score).  The Library of Congress also offers more than 2,000 compilations and individual films free to all online.  And your local library may well offer more, as digital video, or as physical recordings (if you can still obtain those).  A number of streaming services that libraries or individuals can subscribe to offer films in the public domain that you can free free to set to music.  Check with your librarian or browse the collection of your favorite streaming service.

I’m not an expert in films myself.  Folks reading this who know more, or have more suggestions, should feel free to add comments to this post while comments are open.  In general, the first librarians you talk to won’t usually be experts about the questions you ask.  But even when we can’t give definitive answers on our own, we’re good at sending researchers in productive directions, whether that’s to useful research and reference sources, or to more knowledgeable people.  I hope you’ll take advantage of your librarians’ help, especially during this health crisis.  And, for my questioner and other folks who are interested in scoring or otherwise building on public domain films, I’ll be very interested in hearing about the new works you produce from them.


Posted in copyright, publicdomain, Questions | Comments Off on Everybody’s Library Questions: Finding films in the public domain

Welcome to everybody’s online libraries

As coronavirus infections spread throughout the world, lots of people are staying home to slow down the spread and save lives.  In the US, many universities, schools, and libraries have closed their doors.  (Here’s what happening at the library where I work, which as I write this has closed all its buildings.)  But lots of people are still looking for information, to continue studies online, or just to find something good to read.

Libraries are stepping up to provide these things online.  Many libraries have provided online information for years, through our own websites, electronic resources that we license, create, or link to, and other online services.  During this crisis, as our primary forms of interaction move online, many of us will be working hard to meet increased demand for digital materials and services (even as many library workers also have to cope with increased demands and stresses on their personal lives). Services are likely to be in flux for a while.  I have a few suggestions for the near term:

Check your libraries’ web sites regularly. They should tell you whether the libraries are now physically open or closed (many are closed now, for good reason), and what services the library is currently offering.  Those might change over time, sometimes quickly.  Our main library location at Penn, for instance, was declared closed indefinitely last night, less than 12 hours before it was next due to reopen.   On the other hand, some digitally mediated library services and resources might not be available initially, but then become available after we have safe and workable procedures set up for them and sufficient staffing.   

Many library web sites also prominently feature their most useful electronic resources and services, and have extensive collections of electronic resources in their catalogs or online directories.  They may be acquiring more electronic resources to meet increased user demand for online content. Some providers are also increasing what they offer to their library customers during the crisis, and sometimes making some of their material free for all to access.

If  you need particular things from your library during this crisis, reach out to them using the contact information given on their website.  When libraries know what their users need, they can often make those needs a priority, and can let you know if and when they can provide them.

Check out other free online library services.    I run one of them, The Online Books Page, which now lists over 3 million books and serials freely readable online due to their public domain status or the generosity of their rightsholders.   We’ll be adding more material there over the next few weeks as we incorporate the listings of more collections, and respond to your requests.  There are many other services online as well.   Wikipedia serves not only as a crowd-sourced collection of articles on millions of topics, but also as a directory of further online resources related to those topics.   And the Internet Archive also offers access millions of books and other information resources no longer readily commercially available, many through controlled digital lending and other manifestations of fair use.  (While the limits of fair use are often subject to debate, library copyright specialists make a good case that its bounds tend to increase during emergencies like this one.  See also Kyle Courtney’s blog for more discussion of useful things libraries can do in a health crisis with their copyright powers.)

Support the people who provide the informative and creative resources you value.  The current health crisis has also triggered an economic crisis that will make life more precarious for many creators.  If you have funds you can spare, send some of them their way so they can keep making and publishing the content you value.  Humble Bundles, for instance, offer affordable packages of ebooks, games, and other online content you can enjoy while you’re staying home, and pay for to support their authors, publishers, and associated charities.  (I recently bought their Tachyon SF bundle with that in mind; it’s on offer for two more weeks as I write this.)  Check the websites of your favorite authors and artists to see if they offer ways to sponsor their work, or specific projects they’re planning.  Buy books from your favorite independent booksellers (and if they’re closed now, check their website or call them to see if you can buy gift cards to keep them afloat now and redeem them for books later on).  Pay for journalism you value.  Support funding robust libraries in your community.

Consider ways you can help build up online libraries.  Many research papers on COVID-19 and related topics have been opened to free access by their authors or publishers since the crisis began.  Increasing numbers of scholarly and other works are also being made open access, especially by those who have already been paid for creating them.   If you’re interested in sharing your work more broadly, and want to learn more about how you can secure rights to do so, the Authors’ Alliance has some useful resources.

As libraries shift focus from in-person to online service, some librarians may be busy with new tasks, while others may be left hanging until new plans and procedures get put into motion.  If you’re in the latter category, and want something to do, there are various library-related projects you can work on or learn about.  One that I’m running is the deep backfile project to identify serial issues that are in the public domain in less-than-obvious ways, and to find or create free digital copies of these serials (so that, among other things, people who are stuck at home can read them online).  I’ve recently augmented my list of serial backfiles to research to include serials held by the library in which I work, in the hopes that we could eventually find or produce digital surrogates for some of them that our readers (and anyone else interested) could access from afar.  I can also add sets for other libraries; if you’re interested in one for yours, let me know and I can go into more detail about the data I’m looking for.  (I’m not too worried about creating too many serial sets to research, especially since once information about a serial is added into one of the serial sets, it also gets automatically added into any other sets that include that serial.)

Take care of yourself, and your loved ones.  Whether you work in libraries of just use them, this is a stressful time.  Give yourself and those around you room and resources to cope, as we disengage from much of our previous activities, and deal with new responsibilities and concerns.  I’m gratified to see the response of the Wikimedia Foundation, for instance, which is committed both to keeping the world well-informed and up-to-date through Wikipedia and related projects, and also to letting its staff and contractors work half-time for the same pay during the crisis, and waiving sick-day limits. Among new online community support initiatives, I’m also pleased to see librarian-created resources like the Ontario Library Association’s pandemic information brief, with useful information for library users and workers, and the COVID4GLAM Discord community, a discussion space to support the professional and personal needs of people working in libraries, archives, galleries and museums.

These will be difficult times ahead.  Our libraries can make a difference online, even as our doors are closed.  I hope you’ll be able to put them to good use.


Posted in libraries, online books, open access | 4 Comments