What do Virginia Woolf, Louis Brandeis, James Joyce, and Sherwood Anderson have in common? Each author’s unpublished works entered the public domain last Sunday (January 1, 2012). What does that mean? Works exist in the public domain if they are not covered by intellectual property rights or if the intellectual property rights have expired. Copyright is very complicated and depends on many factors. For unpublished works, copyright is the life of the author plus 70 years. This means that any unpublished works created by an author who died in 1941 or earlier are in the public domain. For previously published works, anything published prior to 1923 is in the public domain.
Public Domain Day, which is celebrated on January 1, recognizes and celebrates the tremendous amount of knowledge and information that becomes freely available to all on New Year’s Day. Every year, due to the expiration of copyright protection terms on works produced by authors who died several decades earlier, thousands of works enter the public domain – that is, their content is no longer owned or controlled by anyone, but it rather becomes a common treasure, available for anyone to freely use for any purpose.
Copyright and public domain are near and dear to all archivists and historians. For more information on Public Domain Day, click here: http://publicdomainday.org/.
View a very easy-to-understand chart of copyright terms created by Cornell University, here: http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm.
Download, browse, and search public domain images on Flickr’s Commons here: http://www.flickr.com/commons?GXHC_gx_session_id_=6afecb2055a3c52c.
And remember on January 1, 2011, all unpublished works by authors who died in 1941 (like Trotsky, Fitzgerald, and Babel) and all previous published works published prior to 1923 will all become part of the public domain, and therefore accessible to all.