Master of the Public Domain

Ok, the headline of this post is a thinly veiled shout out to a classic Seinfeld episode.   But what I’m writing about is this article.  And it’s fascinating.  The subject? All of the works from 1927 that are now in the public domain.   A copyright expires 95 years after the creation of the work.  So, do the math and you’ll land in 1927.  Come January 1, 2023, the 95 years has run on movies like The Jazz Singer and Metropolis and books like To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury.  There’s a ton of musical compositions like The Best Things in Life Are Free and My Blue Heaven. 

The article is worth reading not just for the list of titles, but for the explanation of why it’s a good thing for works to enter the public domain.  Once that happens they can be adapted or reimagined, free from any need to pay royalties or homage to the original author.  It actually inspires creativity, even if that comes at the expense of royalties to the original author.  But 95 years is plenty of time for the original authors to recoup their rewards, don’t you think?

To that point, definitely check out the part of the article that talks about the efforts by the heirs of Arthur Conan Doyle to continue to squeeze out royalties long after the copyright expired on Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson.  Spoiler alert – a federal judge called it an “unlawful business strategy.”  So enjoy the article and the works that are now in the public domain.  Happy New Year.