Industry & Advocacy News
January 2, 2024
On January 1, 2024, thousands of copyrighted literary works from 1928 entered the public domain in the United States. That means authors and other creators can now incorporate thousands of books published in and before 1928 into their own work—at least for U.S. distribution—without permission.
Highlights of this year’s public domain class include classics such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht, and Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The earliest versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse that appeared in Steamboat Willie are now available, joined by the beloved Tigger, who first appeared in The House at Pooh Corner.
Here are just some of the works available for use from 1928:
This is a sample of the thousands of works now freely available. They reveal many of the historical realities of 1920s culture including banned books, critiques of capitalism, the writings of the Harlem Renaissance, and works dealing with the aftermath of World War I. There are also explorations of fluid gender and sexuality in the classics Orlando and The Well of Loneliness.
According to Jennifer Jenkins, the director of the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, many of these works are “literary classics and great theatrical works, bestsellers, and other familiar works.”
Take note, though: These same books may still be under copyright elsewhere in the world. So, if you want to incorporate them in a new work to be published overseas, you’ll need to check the copyright in the relevant country. Copyright terms for older works in the U.K., for instance, are generally longer, so books from 1928 may not yet be in the public domain there.
Here’s another wrinkle: If a book was first published in the U.S. between 1928 and 1964, but a copyright renewal was not filed with the US Copyright Office, it’s in the public domain as well. It’s easy to check the Copyright Office’s records to see if a copyright was renewed—and many weren’t.
Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, said, “We welcome that copyright law gives us a robust public domain with these seminal works that writers can now incorporate into their own. We look forward to seeing the new literary works that will emerge as authors create fresh, transformative works. The cycle of creativity continues!”
The entry of these iconic books into the public domain exemplifies the ideal balance copyright law aims to strike. It protects authors’ ability to profit from their creations and opens the door for future innovators to infuse new life into past works. This upholds both authors’ rights and future creativity.
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