These 1924 Copyrighted Works Enter The Public Domain In 2020

Kathryn McGuire and Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. (Screenshot: Metro Pictures Corporation)

For the second year in a row, January 1 brings thousands of classic copyrighted works into the public domain. Under U.S. law, works published any time in 1924 will enter the public domain on January 1, 2020. This includes books, films, artworks, sheet music, and other concrete creative works—but unfortunately not audio recordings. Below are some of the most important works losing their copyright.

This used to happen every year. But in 1998, the Copyright Term Extension Act (aka the Sonny Bono Act, aka the Mickey Mouse Protection Act) lengthened copyright protection for existing works by 20 years, freezing the growth of the public domain. That extension is finally over, and now new works will enter the public domain every year.

You can use the following works any way you please under copyright law. You can download them, copy them, share them, translate them, excerpt them, remix them, perform them, or adapt them into other media without permission. (Double-check a work’s publication date before using it.) If it’s transformative enough, your new work is protected under copyright. (That’s why you can copy Pride and Prejudice, but not Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.)

You could theoretically slap your name on these works and pretend they’re yours without violating copyright law—but you’d look like an idiot.

The public domain lets Disney turn fairy tales into movies. It lets people perform Shakespeare without royalties. It lets orchestras play Beethoven. It’s healthy for creative works to eventually become public property. Let’s take advantage of it.

Movies

All these shorts and feature films (mostly silent), including:

  • 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 (already in public domain)

Music

All these songs. These compositions are now in the public domain; any audio recordings from this year don’t lose copyright until 2025. Classics like:

  • George and Ira Gershwin’s musical Lady, Be Good! including “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh Lady, Be Good”

  • Irving Berlin’s “Lazy” and “What’ll I Do”

  • “Alabamy Bound”

  • “California, Here I Come” by Al Jolson

  • “Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight?”

  • “I’ll See You in My Dreams”

  • “Everybody Loves My Baby”

  • “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?”

  • “It Had to Be You”

  • Jazz classic “Nobody’s Sweetheart”

  • Ma Rainey’s blues classic “See See Rider”

  • “Somebody Loves Me”

Classical pieces like:

  • 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

And more obscure songs that I like the name of:

  • “I’m A Little Blackbird Looking For A Bluebird”

  • “Why Did I Kiss That Girl?”

  • “Let Me Linger Longer In Your Arms”

  • “Where The Lazy Daisies Grow”

  • “A New Kind Of Man With A New Kind Of Love For Me”

  • “Drink! Drink! Drink!”

  • “Prince Of Wails”

  • “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street (All the Little Birdies Go Tweet-Tweet-Tweet)“

  • “Doo Wacka Doo”

Literature

All these works, including these books:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Land That Time Forgot and Tarzan and the Ant Men

  • Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates

  • Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game

  • W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Gift of Black Folk

  • Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not... (first volume of Parade’s End)

  • E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India

  • Emma Goldman’s My Further Disillusionment in Russia

  • A preliminary version of Ernest Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time

  • Muhammad Iqbal’s Bang-i-Dara

  • Margaret Kennedy’s The Constant Nymph

  • H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Walls”

  • Katherine Mansfield’s Something Childish and Other Stories

  • Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain

  • Herman Melville’s posthumously published Billy Budd

  • A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young

  • Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

  • Mark Twain’s Autobiography (posthumous)

  • Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Box-Car Children, first book in the series

  • H. G. Wells’s The Dream

  • Edith Wharton’s The Old Maid

  • Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Grampa in Oz, the 18th Oz book

And these plays:

  • Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Edward II of England, adapted from Marlowe

  • Noël Coward’s Hay Fever and Easy Virtue

  • Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms

Artworks

  • George Bellows’s Dempsey and Firpo

  • One of Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space sculptures

  • Edward Hopper’s New York Pavements

  • Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Art Dealer Johanna Ey

  • Wassily Kandinsky’s Contrasting Sounds

  • Paul Klee’s Asiatic God, Carnival in the Mountains, Flower Garden

  • Joan Miró’s first work in the Head of a Catalan Peasant sequence

  • Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres

  • Diego Rivera’s fresco Day of the Dead

Some of these works may already be in the public domain. The U.S. Library of Congress, Internet Archive, and New York Public Library worked together this year to make a searchable public database of copyright status for works published from 1923 to 1964.

In most other countries, copyright is based on the date of an author’s death, and often expires earlier than it would if created in the U.S. Wikipedia has a list of authors whose work will enter the public domain during 2020.


Comments

    In Australia the laws are quite different. What is public domain in the USA can be in copyright in Australia, and the other way too.

    The work of any author or musician who died before 1955 is now public domain.

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