As the New Year’s bells rang out at midnight, all works first published in the United States in 1923 will enter the public domain, and will no longer enjoy copyright protection.

In 1998, corporations such as Disney successfully lobbied Congress to extend the protection of copyrighted properties from 1923 that were due to lose their protection. Works before 1978 were originally entitled to copyright protection for 75 years from its date of publication, but the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act added 20 years to this protection. This prevented 1923 works being released in 1999; it would be protected now until 2019. 

The public domain has therefore been essentially frozen for these last 20 years, but “Public Domain Day” is here, bringing exciting benefits with it.

The term “public domain” simply refers to materials not protected by intellectual property rights, whereby the public is said to own these works rather than any author or publisher etc.. This means such works can be used without anyone’s permission and with no risk of infringing copyright protection. With the onset of the internet this domain has only expanded in size, thereby permitting greater dissemination of works.

Such works include Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, Billy Jones’s Yes! We Have No Bananas, as well as thousands of literary, film, music and artistic material.

The loss of the protection at its core means an injection of cultural works into the public domain. This should pose an exciting prospect for many particularly because the last American “Public Domain Day” was in 1998, a time before the expansive of the internet was realised. Considering the capabilities of the digital age means this could only further the opportunities for creativity and propagation of cultural ideas.

Certainly, as the years progress from now the public domain will once again witness annual releases of previously protected works. This will also shed new and interesting light on the cultures, attitudes, and developments of the times.