January 29, 2020
Since January 1, 2020, U.S. copyrighted works from 1924 are available for public access without permission or fee. These works include classic books, films, and music, such as Edith Wharton’s Old New York, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
This practice of granting free access to past works is an important feature of copyright law. While the main purpose of copyright law is to protect and allow authors to benefit from their creative efforts, copyright does not last forever.
According to Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, copyright “ensures that those rights last for a ‘limited time,’ so that when they expire, works can go into the public domain, where future authors can legally build upon their inspirations.” This not only promotes “creativity and distribution,” but the public domain “also enables access to cultural materials that might otherwise be lost to history.”
As reported by the Smithsonian, works will continue to enter the public domain until 2073, at which point works published by authors who died seven decades earlier will expire each year. A full list of public domain works is available at the Catalogue of Copyright Entries.
Authors: Sam Galway and Clara Ryu