“Public Domain Day. January 1st every year. If you live in Europe, January 1st 2010 would be the day when the works of Freud and Yeats and hundreds of other authors ranging from Havelock Ellis to Zane Grey emerge into the public domain — where they are freely available for anyone to use, republish, translate or transform. You could copy the songs and photos, share the movies, make a digital library of the books. Your school could create an interactive volume of Yeats’s poems, or publish that cheap educational edition of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. You could translate Ellis into French, even make a new film based on Grey’s classic Westerns. Or you could just send a copy to a friend — without asking permission or violating the law.
On the first day of each year, Public Domain Day celebrates the moment when copyrights expire. The films, photos, books and symphonies whose copyright term has finished become “free as the air to common use.” The end of the copyright on these works means that they enter the public domain, completing the copyright bargain. Copyright gives creators — authors, musicians, filmmakers, photographers — exclusive rights over their works for a limited time. The copyright encourages the creators to create and the publishers to distribute — that’s a very good thing. But when the copyright ends, the work enters the public domain — to join the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Mozart, the books of Dickens — the material of our collective culture. That’s a good thing too! It’s the second part of the copyright bargain; the limited period of exclusive rights ends and the work enters the realm of free culture. Prices fall, new editions come out, songs can be sung, symphonies performed, movies displayed. Even better, people can legally build on what came before.
What is entering the public domain in the United States? Sadly, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year. Or next year. Or the year after. Or the year after that.” Read more