Did you know that new works (literature, art, film, and music) are FINALLY being added to the Public Domain in the United States yearly on January 1?
On January 1, 2019, the provisions set forth in the Copyright Extension Act of 1998 finally expired, allowing hundreds of works to enter the Public Domain. From here on out (barring another piece of legislation to the contrary), new works will enter the Public Domain on January 1 of each year, just as they do in other countries.
This year, it means that works published before 1925 (with just a few exceptions) are now open for use without gaining permission from the author, their agent, or estate. So, works like Robert Frost’s collection of poems New Hampshire are available for use, as is the film The Ten Commandments (the Cecil B. DeMille version, anyway), and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
While it’s true that some works published in 1924 (and later) might already have been in the public domain if copyright was improperly registered or renewed, and conversely, a (very) few works may still remain under copyright, it remains important to conduct the proper research into the copyright status of a work prior to using it.
But for now, authors, artists, filmmakers, and really anyone is free to create their own editions, versions, translations, or adaptations of works from 1923 and before. Hooray for more creative endeavors!