Public Domain Day: 9 Noteworthy Titles To Look Out For

Each year, copyrights expire for another group of classics. Let’s look at some of the most notable titles entering the public domain on January 1, 2023.

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January 1 is Public Domain Day – a yearly marker for the copyright expiration of countless books, movies, artworks, and musical compositions. Since you can’t spell Bookstr without “books,” we’re going to hone in on the new crop of reads becoming public domain in 2023, as well as brush up on copyright law and its impact on pop culture. Let’s get started!

Public Domain Day

As of New Years Day in the United States, copyrighted works from 1927 will become public domain – meaning they’ll be “free for all to copy, share, and build upon.” This development was supposed to take place back in 2003 at the 75 year mark of copyright protection, but the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act added another 20 years. Now, after a total of 95 years since their publication, a new group of classic works’ copyright will officially expire. This new bunch of public domain arrivals include Virginia Woolf’s modernist classic, the final Sherlock Homes novel, and a staple poetry collection from the Harlem Renaissance.

The Major Titles

Virginia Woolf in an armchair at Monk's house gazing out the window
Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House – Image via Wikimedia Commons

To peruse the longer list of titles (including movies and music) click here.

Copyright and Pop Culture

You may be wondering, what’s the big deal about this routine legal transition? Well, past copyright shifts have heralded a new wave of adaptations for classic novels. Take, for instance, the emergence of The Great Gatsby into public domain in 2021. After which, we saw a handful of new spin-off reads inspired by the American classic (ex. Self-Made Boys and Nick).

the great Gatsby book cover
Image via Amazon

Without the established copyright protection, the door for creative interpretation or literary remixes, if you will, becomes more pervasive. Therefore, each year, as new groups of time-honored stories enter the public domain, new adapted material can be expected to hit the shelves and movie screens.

Legal Technicalities

That said, a book’s public domain status does not always evade legal technicalities and hang-ups. This is because copyright over characters can allow protections to continue in some cases. One recent legal battle of this nature involved Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate suing Netflix over Enola Holmes. The heart of their defense was that while some of the author’s original works are public domain, later version’s of the character– whose copyright hadn’t expired– were violated by the platform’s recent adaptation.

public domain legal battles
Image via Netflix

Though the Arthur Conan Doyle estate has diligently tried to extend their copyright claim, as of January 1, when the final Sherlock Holmes novel becomes public domain, their case will have nothing left in their arsenal to win a legal battle with Netflix.

Aside from the cause of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, Public Domain Day is, in general, a cause for celebration. It opens up the door for more freedom in adapting, sharing, and screening material without licensing fees. As Jennifer Jenkins, director of the Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain notes: when works nearly a century old become free for public use “anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available, where we can all discover, enjoy and breathe new life into them.” What an encouraging sentiment to kick off the New Year!

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