From The Duke University School of Law:
In 2022, the public domain will welcome a lot of “firsts”: the first Winnie-the-Pooh book from A. A. Milne, the first published novels from Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, the first books of poems from Langston Hughes and Dorothy Parker. What’s more, for the first time ever, thanks to a 2018 law called the Music Modernization Act, a special category of works—sound recordings—will finally begin to join other works in the public domain. On January 1 2022, the gates will open for all of the recordings that have been waiting in the wings. Decades of recordings made from the advent of sound recording technology through the end of 1922—estimated at some 400,000 works—will be open for legal reuse.
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Why celebrate the public domain? When works go into the public domain, they can legally be shared, without permission or fee. That is something Winnie-the-Pooh would appreciate. Community theaters can screen the films. Youth orchestras can perform the music publicly, without paying licensing fees. Online repositories such as the Internet Archive, HathiTrust, and Google Books can make works fully available online. This helps enable access to cultural materials that might otherwise be lost to history. 1926 was a long time ago. The vast majority of works from 1926 are out of circulation. When they enter the public domain in 2022, anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available, where we can all discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them.
The public domain is also a wellspring for creativity. The whole point of copyright is to promote creativity, and the public domain plays a central role in doing so. Copyright law gives authors important rights that encourage creativity and distribution—this is a very good thing. But it also ensures that those rights last for a “limited time,” so that when they expire, works go into the public domain, where future authors can legally build on the past—reimagining the books, making them into films, adapting the songs and movies. That’s a good thing too! As explained in a New York Times editorial:
When a work enters the public domain it means the public can afford to use it freely, to give it new currency . . . [public domain works] are an essential part of every artist’s sustenance, of every person’s sustenance.
Just as Shakespeare’s works have given us everything from 10 Things I Hate About You and Kiss Me Kate (from The Taming of the Shrew) to West Side Story (from Romeo and Juliet), who knows what the works entering the public domain in 2022 might inspire? As with Shakespeare, the ability to freely reimagine these works may spur a range of creativity, from the serious to the whimsical, and in doing so allow the original artists’ legacies to endure.
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- A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, decorations by E. H. Shepard
- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
- Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope (her first collection of poems)
- Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues
- T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (later adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia)
- Felix Salten, Bambi, A Life in the Woods
- Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
- Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
- Edna Ferber, Show Boat
- William Faulkner, Soldiers’ Pay (his first novel)
- Willa Cather, My Mortal Enemy
- D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent
- H. L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy
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Movies Entering the Public Domain
- For Heaven’s Sake (starring Harold Lloyd)
- Battling Butler (starring Buster Keaton)
- The Son of the Sheik (starring Rudolph Valentino)
- The Temptress (starring Greta Garbo)
- Moana (docufiction filmed in Samoa)
- Faust (German expressionist classic)
- So This Is Paris (based on the play Le Réveillon)
- Don Juan (first feature-length film to use the Vitaphone sound system)
- The Cohens and Kellys (prevailed in a famous copyright lawsuit)
- The Winning of Barbara Worth (a Western, known for its flood scene)
- Bye Bye Black Bird (Ray Henderson, Mort Dixon)
- Snag It (Joseph ‘King’ Oliver)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Irving Berlin)
- Black Bottom Stomp (Ferd ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton)
- Someone To Watch Over Me (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin)
- Nessun Dorma from Turandot (Giacomo Puccini, Franco Alfano, Giusseppe Adami, Renato Simoni)
- Are You Lonesome To-Night (Roy Turk, Lou Handman)
- When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along (Harry Woods)
- Ke Kali Nei Au (“Waiting For Thee”) (Charles E. King), in 1958 renamed Hawaiian Wedding Song with new lyrics (English) by Hoffman & Manning
- Cossack Love Song (Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II, George Gershwin, Herbert Stothart)
Link to the rest at The Duke University School of Law