Public Domain Day
On January 1 each year, we welcome into the public domain a treasure trove of formerly copyrighted works. On January 1, 2021, these will include all the works first published in the United States in 1925, as well as unpublished works created by authors who died in 1950.
The public domain 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.
Works in the public domain are fully searchable, downloadable, and reuseable from sites including the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/), HathiTrust, Google Books, and many others. At the UMass Libraries, we contribute to the public domain by digitizing works from our collections and making them available to the world.
2019 was a banner year in the history of the public domain, as it marked the first time in two decades that published works entered the public domain en masse. After Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998 at the behest of major copyright lobbyists (the CTEA has often been called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” because of Disney’s role in lobbying for the legislation), the public domain in the US was “frozen” for twenty years — works published in 1923 had been about to enter the public domain on January 1, 1999, but instead stayed locked up for an additional two decades. While a small number of rightsholders profited from those two decades, the vast majority of copyrighted works languished in obscurity, unknown or “orphaned” by the lengthy copyright term.
Previous Public Domain Days
- 2021: Happy Public Domain Day 2021! (UMass)
- 2019: Celebrating the re-opening of the public domain in 2019: Welcoming works published in 1923, and unpublished works by creators who died in 1948.
- “Five Things to Know About the Public Domain”, Lauren Weiss, Bookmark #4 (2019)
- “UMass Libraries celebrates Public Domain Day 2019”, James Woglom, Daily Collegian, Feb. 4, 2019, highlighting the “Public Domain Exhibition” curated by science librarian Paulina Borrego
- 2014: What’s not entering the public domain this year (Dec. 31, 2013, blog post)