January 1 is a time to start fresh and look forward to the coming year full of possibilities. And for art and culture lovers, New Year’s Day is more than just a time to ruminate on resolutions—it’s also Public Domain Day. Each year, on January 1, new pieces of art, literature, music, and cinema enter into the public domain.
In the United States, this is just the second public domain release since the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 upped the copyright length to 95 years for any work published between 1923 and 1977. Prior to 1978, copyright expired after 56 years. That means we could have been seeing the release of material from 1963! This would have included Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and songs from The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA. But alas, this is not the case.
For 2020, we can still look forward to a plethora of incredible cultural finds from 1924, though Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain points out some of the pitfalls of such a long copyright term. “Unfortunately, the fact that works from 1924 are legally available does not mean they are actually available. After 95 years, many of these works are already lost or literally disintegrating (as with old films and recordings), evidence of what long copyright terms do to the conservation of cultural artifacts.”
What is still viable will be available for creators to engage with and be inspired by for years to come.[…]