The Best Songs, Movies, and Books Entering the Public Domain in 2024 (That Aren’t ‘Steamboat Willie’)

The Best Songs, Movies, and Books Entering the Public Domain in 2024 (That Aren’t ‘Steamboat Willie’)

Along with hangovers and broken resolutions, the beginning of a new year means the rights to additional intellectual properties passing from their original owners, to you, the public—and 2024 is a particularly monumental year in that regard, considering it marks the entry into the public domain of one Mickey Mouse.

Disney has fought zealously to protect the copyright on its most iconic character since at least 1976, when it successfully encouraged Congress to pass the Copyright Act, which allowed owners to hold onto copyrights for the life of the work’s author, plus 50 years. In 1998, that term was lengthened to 75 years, or a maximum of 95 years. The clock finally caught up with Disney, and Mickey, Minnie, and all the cartoon stars of the iconic 1928 short “Steamboat Willie” now belong to the public. Kind of—the version of Mickey with the red shorts and big eyes is still owned by Disney; the black and white “Steamboat” version of Mickey is not.

Unsurprisingly, you can already find a ton of copyright free Steamboat Willie re-mixes and mash-ups online, or participate in a Mickey based crypto-currency scheme, or gird yourself for the horror movie Mickey’s Mouse Trap.

Given the attention garnered by Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey earlier this year, a cheap horror flick based on “Steamboat Willie” was to be expected, but Disney’s iconic rodent mascot isn’t the only beloved piece of art or culture you can claim for yourself as of Jan. 1, 2024.

Here are other notable works that just became free to everyone in the U.S.:

Notable books and plays that entered the public domain in 2024

  • D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Someone should make a horror movie based on this British tale of an upper class woman’s affair with her groundskeeper. 
  • Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny OperaThe German version of this Weimar-Republic-era musical set in the seedy underground of London is now free to translate, adapt, and otherwise fool around with. We’ll have to wait three years the rights to the 1931 film version to become available though. 
  • A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner: The character of Winnie the Pooh has been in the public domain since 2022, but his pal Tigger is newly free, allowing the iconic stuffed Tiger to appear in the sequel to the aforementioned (and terrible) Pooh-based horror movie Blood and Honey. 
  • Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front: I doubt you’ll be able to top Netflix’s excellent 2022 adaptation of this grim World War I story, but now you can try—the German version is newly in the public domain.
  • Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats: This is the oldest U.S. picture book still in print. I really like the simple, black-and-white illustrations—and now they’re free, so I can make them into t-shirts. Illustration from Million of Cats by Wanda GágI only included the attribution of this picture to Wanda Gág to be nice. Credit: Wanda Gág

Notable films that entered the public domain in 2024

  • The Lights of New York: This story of New York lowlifes was advertised as the “first all-talking picture.” It’s now free to watch on YouTube, download, and share all you want.
  • The Circus: A full version of Charlie Chaplin’s big top movie isn’t currently on YouTube, but it’s only a matter of time until it appears. 
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc: If you’re only going to watch one silent movie from 1928, make it Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. It’s mind-blowing that the close-up was only invented about a decade before it was perfected in this movie. 
  • The Man Who Laughs: This creepy horror-melodrama features a main character with a huge grin carved in his face. Yes, the Joker is a total rip-off of Conrad Veidt’s iconic take on the Victor Hugo character.
Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs

This movie was owned by Warner Brothers a week ago. Credit: Public Domain

  • The Crowd: King Vidor’s sprawling, groundbreaking story of regular people crushed by an uncaring world predicted the misery of the great depression. It’s now free to watch, remake, and share. Dang, 1928 was just a great year for movies.

Notable songs that entered the public domain in 2024

  • Mack the Knife” This murder song from ThreePenny Opera is now free to record. At least, the German version is. Keep in mind: Individual recordings, like the Bobby Darin treatment, are not in the public domain. 
  • Lawdy, Lawdy Blues,” Ida Cox: This awesome old school blues song was recorded in 1923, making the recording public domain in 2024. 
  • Moonshine Blues,” Ma Rainey: Writing songs about getting drunk has been cool for over 100 years!
  • The Big Rock Candy Mountains” by Harry McClintock: This classic piece of hobo Americana is now in the public domain—but just the composition, not the recording. 
  • Let’s Do It. Let’s Fall in Love” by Cole Porter: If you want the opposite of hobo music, check out this sophisticated love song from the 1928 musical Paris

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