What Entered the Public Domain This Year?

In the United States, under U.S. copyright law, works published in 1926 and earlier are now in public domain. One can publish them or use them without securing copyright permission. In case you are wondering about the specifics, the Copyright Term Extension Act (passed in 1998) gave works published from 1923 through 1977 a 95-year term limit. They enter public domain on January 1 after the conclusion of the 95th year.

It gets a little complicated because anything copyrighted before 1977 had only a 28-year protection. The copyright had to be renewed in the 28th year, or the book went into public domain. It is estimated that as much as 85% of such properties were not renewed and are now in public domain. But determining that for certain can be quite a task!

By the way, this happens not only with books but anything under copyright like films and music.

Notable titles are on this year’s list:
Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (later adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia)
A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, decorations by E. H. Shepard

Also note that while these books are in the public domain, you can’t slap your name on them and claim you wrote them. There’s a word for that: plagiarism.

And if you want to plan ahead? In 2023 the following are on the list to slide into the public domain:
Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon
Mickey Mouse (but is trademarked, so be careful)
Hardy Boys, first book (but I believe the Hardy Boys are also trademarked, so be careful)

I’ve written about copyright and contracts before, but I’d like to clarify some practical details. This post was about property published before 1926. The copyright law was revised in 1978 to include property published between 1923 and 1977.

Anything published after 1978 is under the new copyright rules. The term is the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. A long time.

After that, the book is in public domain. Traditional book contracts usually say that the rights are granted to the publisher for the life of the copyright (unless reverted to the author earlier).

Therefore, if you publish with GGGG Publishing this year, you go to glory in 2029, AND your book continues to sell, it could be published by GGGG until 2099. At that point, it goes into public domain and anyone can publish without paying the estate.

My guess? By 2095 the laws over copyright may change. And you won’t care!

A YA author created an interesting book with a scary premise. All Rights Reserved by Gregory Stott Katsoulis. In the story every word has been copyrighted. So when you speak or write a word, it is deducted from your bank account. (Thus few people speak.) Also, a corporation created a program to compose every possible variation of music and copyrighted them all. So if you sing anything, it is deducted from your bank account.

People don’t get charged until they reach a certain age. So the day before they become adults, the boy or girl makes a final speech.

Everyone must have a wristband that hears every word or sound in order to invoice the user. Sort of like having Alexa or Google Home listening to every word spoken in your home.

10 Responses to What Entered the Public Domain This Year?

  1. L.G. McCary January 17, 2022 at 5:42 am #

    I know what book I’ll be reading next! All Rights Reserved is in my queue. Thank you for mentioning it!

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 17, 2022 at 5:48 am #

    At last it’s in public domain,
    so what now might I do?
    What plans might I entertain
    for sweet Winnie-The-Pooh?
    Might he journey to Barsoom,
    fight Burroughs’ Martians there,
    with a stop at Wells’ Moon,
    battling Selenites with flair?
    Will friend Tigger tag along,
    with Eeyore, Roo, and Kanga?
    What, then, could go really wrong
    if the tale’s not told in anger,
    but within, and not apart,
    from Hundred Acre’s happy heart?

  3. Pam Halter January 17, 2022 at 7:11 am #

    I had an idea for a middle grade story that involved characters from the Wizard of Oz, which I knew was public domain. But I checked anyway, and while I can refer to the stories, I can’t use anything that’s in the movie.

    For example: the ruby slippers. In the book, the shoes were silver, but changed to ruby for the movie because they thought it would be better for the big screen.

    It’s always good to check, even when you know something is public domain.

  4. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. January 17, 2022 at 7:38 am #

    All Rights Reserved sounds like a horror book! What a thought!

  5. E.F. Buckles January 17, 2022 at 7:47 am #

    I have an Etsy shop called EruvandiCrafts where I’ve started making annual collections of women’s accessories and baby blankets based on a book in the public domain (So far, I’ve done The Wizard of Oz, and The Jungle Book), and I also enjoy reading and writing retellings of all kinds, so it’s good to know what could be an option in the future. 😀

  6. David Birmingham January 17, 2022 at 10:02 am #

    Oh, I’ve always wanted to do a musical comedy or rom-com based on The Sun Also Rises. Now’s my big chance!!!

  7. Kristen Joy Wilks January 17, 2022 at 11:27 am #

    Winnie the Pooh was the first audiobook that I was able to get my sons to sit and listen to … provided that they were strapped into car seats and boosters in the car, ha! Yes, even with car seats, they were able to roar and wrestle! That amazing moment when story caught their attention in the car was priceless.

  8. Sharon K Connell January 17, 2022 at 11:29 am #

    Thank you for all the information, Steve.

  9. Brad January 17, 2022 at 1:49 pm #

    I wanted to use the words to “Nature Boy”, a song first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1948. It was written in 1947.
    A company in California manages the use of the words and melody. I contacted them and asked if I could use the words in a self-published book. They had a long list of questions that I couldn’t answer, mostly having to do with how many copies would be printed, what predicted sales would be, etc.
    In the end, I thanked them and am rewriting the chapter in which I wanted to use the words to “Nature Boy.”

  10. Megan Schaulis January 19, 2022 at 8:31 am #

    Wow! That’s one of those book plots that feels just ridiculous enough to come true.

    With these works entering public domain, do you think we’ll see a spike in movie/TV adaptations?

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