The new decade will be bringing with it thousands of works into the Public Domain. The Public domain had been frozen in time for the last 20 years, because of the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, lengthened copyright protections by 20 years. Finally, on January 1, 2019, we began to see the public domain grow again.

What is the Public Domain?

The public domain refers to creative works that are no longer protected by intellectual property laws. Instead of the creator having ownership of these works, they are owned by the public and can be used by anyone without needing to obtain permission.

Work enters the public domain for four different reasons:

  • The copyright expired
  • Copyright law does not protect this kind of work
  • The copyright owner chose to place it in the public domain
  • The copyright owner did not follow the rules for the copyright renewal.

The public domain is what allows the countless adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays to be made without having to pay royalties. This is how we get the many adaptations of fairy tales; the television show Once Upon a Time is a prime example of how freely you can use fairy tales that are public domain.

Mickey Mouse Protection Act

In 1998, all work published before 1978 were entitled to 75 years of copyright protection, and work published on or after the date was protected for the creator’s lifetime, plus 50 years.

Mickey Mouse first appeared on screen in Steamboat Willie, in 1928, so it was going to enter the public domain in 2004. Disney, and others, urged Congress to extend copyright protection for an additional 20 years, keeping Steamboat Willie out of the public domain until 2024.

This ended up creating a 20-year hiatus of work entering the public domain, leaving a vacuum of the majority of the 20th Century out of the domain. The last works that entered the public domain were created in 1922, and everyone has to wait until 2019 for everything from 1923 to enter the public domain.

The 2020 Treasure Trove

The public domain has essentially become a time capsule that we will be exploring every year, finally seeing work from the Great Depression and World War II be released to the domain. This will go on until 2073 when those old copyrights will end, and we may see an even bigger deposit of work entering the domain.

Here are the works entering the public domain on January 1, 2020.

Books

  • The Land That Time Forgot and Tarzan and The Ant Man, both by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie
  • A Gentleman of Courage by James Oliver Curwood—among the bestselling books of the 1920s.
  • Call of the Canyon by Zane Grey
  • The Gift of Black Folk by WEB DuBois
  • So Big by Edna Ferber—the biggest fiction bestseller of the year.
  • The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  • The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy
  • Gerald Cranston’s Lady by Gilbert Frankau—this was made into a silent film the same year.
  • Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion 1764–65 by Cleone Knox
  • The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  • Something Childish and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
  • Billy Budd by Herman Melvill
  • Dr. Doolittle’s Circus by Hugh Lofting (book 4 in the series)
  • The Dream Coach by Anne Parrish
  • The Treasures of Typhon by Eden Phillpotts
  • The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Precious Bane by Mary Webb
  • The Dream and The Story of a Great Schoolmaster by H.G. Wells
  • Desire Under The Elms by Eugene O’Neill
  • My Further Disillusionment in Russia by Emma Goldman
  • Edith Wharton’s The Old Maid
  • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
  • Golden Wattle Cookery Book by Margaret Wylie

Movies

  • Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator
  • Girl Shy and Hot Water starring Harold Lloyd
  • Shorts by Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and “Our Gang” (later “Little Rascals”)
  • Fatty Arbuckle’s Stupid, But Brave
  • D. W. Griffith’s America and Isn’t Life Wonderful
  • Clark Gable’s first appearances, White Man (now lost) and Forbidden Paradise
  • The first film adaptations of Peter Pan and The Age of Innocence
  • The first films produced by MGM, including He Who Gets Slapped and Erich von Stroheim’s Greed
  • A silent version of Dante’s Inferno that borrows the “shown the error of his ways” plot from A Christmas Carol.
  • The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks

Music

  • George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
  • Erik Satie’s ballet Relâche
  • Jean Sibelius’s Symphony no. 7
  • Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Die glückliche Hand (The Hand of Fate)
  • Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot