Resource Roundup: The Public Domain

Posted January 15, 2018

public domain image courtesy of the Library of Congress

The first day of Copyright Week is dedicated to the public domain and creativity. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the most recent Public Domain Day, which took place on January 1. On that date, a host of works entered the public domain in Canada, New Zealand, and Europe, as detailed here. But due to copyright term extensions that went into effect in 1998, those of us in the United States have been in a public domain drought for decades. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to freely access many works first published in 1923—almost 100 years ago.

Although some works first published in the United States in or after 1923 may already be in the public domain as a result of failure to comply with formalities, and some unpublished works may also be in the public domain, it can be devilishly difficult to determine when this is the case. We recommend Peter Hirtle’s Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States and Berkeley Law’s “Is it in the Public Domain?” Handbook to help you evaluate a work’s copyright status.

We at Authors Alliance are already looking forward to next January 1, when all works first published in the United States in 1923 will (finally) enter the public domain in the United States and become “free as the air to common use.” Read why in Molly Van Houweling’s post on how the public domain benefits authors.

In the meantime, check out Public Domain Review’s Guide for thorough guidance on how to find public domain works online.