Public Domain Day was January 1st

January 1st of each year marks Public Domain Day. I have to be honest and tell you that I had never paid attention to this annual “holiday”, but this year there seems to be some additional buzz surrounding the different creative works which are now public domain. (Keep reading to learn why)

Public domain is when a creative work’s copyright expires and essentially is up for grabs after a period of 70 years. (Realizing, I am over simplifying the definition) There was a 20-year freeze back in 1998 (thanks to Sonny Bono) that was federally established, so we are now seeing many creative works fall under public domain.

What caught my eye this year was an article by Jennifer Jenkins, Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. In this article she not only lists many books, soundtracks and movies that now fall under public domain but she discusses why we should celebrate Public Domain Day. Before reading her full article, I didn’t fully appreciate how a creative piece entering public domain was a benefit to the greater community. As a musician, I have always viewed public domain from the standpoint of protection/ownership of a creative work. However, after reading Jenkin’s article/guide, I can appreciate the notion of something entering public domain which allows greater access. As she puts it – “where future authors can legally build on the past—reimagining the books, making them into films, adapting the songs and movies”. Read her article, it provides some fascinating information on both copyright issues and public domain.

As I said earlier, what drew my attention to this topic were the actual creative works which fell under public domain this year. Many well known authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ernest Hemingway have works which now qualify under public domain as well as several soundtracks by jazz legends “Fats” Waller and Louis Armstrong. As a old movie buff, especially some of the great silent movies, there are several classics which now fall under public domain. Notably, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and the lost film featuring Lon Chaney, London After Midnight (1927). A pivotal year in movie creation as the talkies emerged with the Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer.

Next year…will be interesting. As an avid admirer of Charlie Chaplin’s work, The Circus (1928) will enter public domain. A footnote though, the version that falls under public domain (like other movie titles) is the silent version only, not when this was re-released including music composed and added by Chaplin.

Wow, we could talk more about all of this!

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