Public Domain Day 2019: Welcome to 1923!

Early this morning, a full year’s worth of published works were welcomed into the public domain in the United States for the first time since 1998. Hundreds of thousands of works from 1923 either joined the public domain here, or achieved a much more obvious and visible public domain status.

This is not news to anyone who’s been following this blog, which has had a post per day discussing some of the many upcoming additions to the public domain.  I’ve also been posting about Public Domain Day here since 2008, but as an American haven’t had a lot to celebrate here till now.  I now find myself feeling much like I did when the Red Sox broke their World Series drought in 2004, or the Eagles finally won a Super Bowl last year: elation, mixed with thoughts that it’s been a long time coming, and wishes that I could celebrate now with everyone I’ve known who’s waited for it these past 21 years.

One thing I’m very happy to see today is that the public domain now has lots of friends, who are now much more numerous, aware, and organized than they were in 1998, the last time copyright was extended here.  They’ve helped ensure that there wasn’t another serious attempt to extend copyright terms here when the 20-year public domain freeze here ended.  They’ve been spreading the word about the new arrivals to the public domain, and why that’s a good thing.  (In my advent calendar series, I’ve pointed to a few of the articles written about this; Lisa Gold’s blog post today is another such article, which also points to a few others.)

Various groups have also been quick to make works that have newly joined the public domain freely readable online.  HathiTrust opened access to over 40,000 works from 1923 today.  Also today, Project Gutenberg released a transcription of The Prophet they had ready to go for its first day in the US public domain; they’re also releasing other 1923 transcriptions.  At the Penn Libraries, where I work, a team led by Brigitte Burris is digitizing 1923 publications from our collections to share online.  A story by Peter Crimmins at WHYY has more information, and pictures, from our digitization work.

While 1923 may be making the biggest splash today, there’s other work also joining the public domain today in various places.  People in Europe and other countries with “life+70 years” copyright terms get works joining the public domain from authors who died in 1948.  (In the US, we’re also today getting works by authors who died that year that were not published prior to 2003.)  People in Canada and other countries maintaining “life+50 years” terms get works by authors who died in 1968.  Some of the relevant authors whose works are joining the public domain in these countries are mentioned in the Public Domain Review’s Class of 2019 feature.

As for me, here’s what I’m giving the world today:

  • A newly updated Creative Commons licensed guide for identifying public domain serial content.  I discussed this guide, when it was still in draft form, in a blog post last month.   Today’s update, now out of draft status, fixes some awkward sentences, says a little more about government publications, and removes references to 1923 copyrights, since they’ve now expired.  I hope folks find the guide useful, and I’d love to hear what you do with it, or if you have questions about it.
  • A grant to the public domain (via CC0 dedication) of any work I published in 2004 whose copyright is under my sole control.  (I typically do this every year on Public Domain Day for copyrights more than 14 years old, in recognition of the original term of copyright available in the United States.)
  • Links added to the advent calendar posts to online copies of the featured works.  They won’t all be linked today (it may take a while to find them all, and not all of them are online at the moment), but I’ll add the ones I can over the next few days, as well as creating or updating listings where appropriate for The Online Books Page.

And now that I’m done with the advent calendar, here’s a list of all of its posts and featured works:

  1. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  2. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Cantata by Frances McCollin
  3. Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
  4. “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” by Arthur Conan Doyle
  5. The Federal Reporter (1923 publications) by West Publishing
  6. “Barney Google” (fox-trot) by Billy Rose and Con Conrad
  7. New York Tribune (1923 issues)
  8. “Yes! We Have no Bananas” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn
  9. Tagebücher by Theodor Herzl
  10. “The Road Away From Revolution” by Woodrow Wilson
  11. Washington and its Romance by Thomas Nelson Page
  12. Cane by Jean Toomer
  13. Safety Last! by Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, and Tim Whelan
  14. Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  15. “Keen” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
  16. Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
  18. The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
  19. Souls for Sale (photoplay) by Rupert Hughes
  20. The Vanishing American by Zane Grey
  21. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Jimmie Cox
  22. A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton
  23. “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm and William Runyan
  24. The Night Before Christmas (recitation with music and drawings) by Hanna van Vollenhoven and Grace Drayton
  25. “Christmas Day at Sea” by Joseph Conrad
  26. Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward L. Bernays
  27. “The Invisible Monster” by Sonia Greene
  28. “Parisian Pierrot” by Noël Coward
  29. Success by A. A. Milne
  30. “In the Orchard” by Virginia Woolf
  31. New Hampshire by Robert Frost

Happy Public Domain Day!  We have lots to celebrate this year, and I’m thankful to everyone who’s helped make this celebration possible, and merrier. May we also have lots to celebrate every year hereafter!


About John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library strategist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
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2 Responses to Public Domain Day 2019: Welcome to 1923!

  1. John, congratulations on this series, and it’s wonderful that new works are hitting the Public Domain the US again. It’s a shame we can’t move towards some version of the old US system, with (say) an initial term of 28 years, extendable by registration for up to 50 years PM. That would go some way to reducing the legal minefields. But, writing as a citizen of a country careering rudderless towards chaos, it’s very clear that what is obvious and sensible seldom wins over the powerful and corrupt!

  2. Concrete Lady says:

    I didn’t know Public Domain Day was even a thing!! Congrats on a great year and cheers to 2019!!! It’s an exciting time to be alive!

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