Happy Public Domain Day 2021

On January 1 each year, the world gets a little freer as many creative, historical, and scientific works — some famous, many more out of print and little known — come out of the copyright closet and enter the public domain.

On January 1, 2021, these will include all the works first published in the United States in 1925, as well as unpublished works created by authors who died in 1950, and unpublished anonymous, pseudonymous, and works made for hire works created in 1900.

"Monkey Selfie" image, with "Welcome to the Public Domain" text.


  • Works published in 1925!
  • Unpublished works by authors who died in 1950
  • Unpublished works, created in 1900, by anonymous writers and works made for hire

(Note: There are many roads to the public domain. For instance, this “monkey selfie” is in the public domain, because animals can’t own copyrights! The macaque on the left took its own picture with a camera provided by photographer David Slater.)

The public domain is so-called because it is the world of all the creations that are owned by the public — ready for adaptations and new takes, and available to be republished, performed, and displayed. Entering the public domain gives scholars, artists, and the public another chance to learn about and build on these works, the vast majority of which fell out of print almost as soon as they were released. Famous and well-regarded works, too, gain a new life, with new adaptations, editions, and approaches to those works flourishing.

The Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a lovely profile of some of the wonderful published works coming into the public domain this year. Me, I’m looking forward to finally reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (How did I miss that one in high school?)

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