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What is "The Public Domain"?

The Public Domain (or PD) is the general term for works that do not have a copyright, and therefore, no longer belong to any one writer. The copyright may have expired, been waived or forfeited, or even may not have applied in the first place. Writers with works in the Public Domain include:

  • William Shakespeare

  • Hans Christian Andersen

  • The Brothers' Grimm

  • Jane Austen

  • Lewis Carrol

  • L. Frank Baum

  • And many, MANY Others

What Qualifies a Story as "Public Domain"?

In most nations, an author's copyright will usually end around seventy (70) years after their death. In the United States, every novel written before 1927 has been entered into the public domain. However, in the USA, copyrights expire after 95 years since the publication date. This law also does not apply to trademarks. For example, there can be various retellings of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," but using anything from Disney's The Little Mermaid (the 1989 film, the 2023 film, or the Broadway musical) would be considered infringement. As another note, unlike copyrights, trademarks do not expire. Last year, the first few Winnie the Pooh stories entered the public domain. However, Disney's Winnie the Pooh has not, and you would be infringing should your art contain anything from the Disney renditions of the characters.

Another thing to consider would be copyright on revisions. For example, on the list below, you will see a  phrase such as "the original edition." One of these instances is with the Hardy Boy series. New editions, new edits, and reprints extend the copywrite. Therefore, only the editions published in 1927 would become public domain.

On January 1st, 2023, the following works entered the Public Domain:

  • The Jazz Singer, the first film to use synchronized sound

  • Chicago, Maurine Dallas Watkins's film and play used as the basis for the Broadway Musical Chicago 

  • The original editions of first three books of The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon

  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

  • The Tuesday Night Club by Agatha Christie

  • The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft

  • Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway

  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes/ But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes by Anita Loos (the novel, not the film)

  • "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin

  • "Ol' Man River" by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern

  • "S'Wonderful" by George and Ira Gershwin

 

As well as several others.

Other Resources on The Public Domain

"Public Domain Day 2023 is Coming: Here's What to Know": https://copyrightlately.com/public-domain-day-2023/

"Public Domain Day":  https://nationaltoday.com/public-domain-day/

"Copyright Law": https://copyright.universityofcalifornia.edu/use/public-
domain.html#:~:text=No%20permission%20is%20needed%20to,and%20can%20be%20quoted%20extensively.

"Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17)":  https://www.copyright.gov/title17/

Public Domain Day is January 1st of Every Year

Works Published in 1928 will Join the Public Domain in 2024

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