Happy Public Domain Day 2024

This year’s list includes works and titles from Disney, Charlie Chaplin, Agatha Christie, Cole Porter, and many more.
Steamboat Willie

As you’re recovering from what ever New Year’s festivities you enjoyed last night, take a minute to celebrate something else: it’s Public Domain Day 2024, when copyrighted works from 1928 (as well as sound recordings from 1923) officially enter the US public domain, meaning that they are now “free for all to copy, share, and build upon.” More:

Some material is born in the public domain. This includes ideas, facts, and raw data, which can never be copyrighted. It also includes official works of the US government such as legislation, legal opinions, and NASA images… But for copyrighted culture, the public domain arrives only after a long wait. Why celebrate? When works go into the public domain, they can legally be shared, without permission or fee. Community theaters can screen the films. Youth orchestras can perform the music publicly, without paying licensing fees. Online repositories such as the Internet Archive, HathiTrust, Google Books, and the New York Public Library can make works fully available online. This helps enable access to cultural materials that might otherwise be lost to history. 1928 was a long time ago and the vast majority of works from 1928 are not commercially available. You couldn’t buy them, or even find them, if you wanted. When they enter the public domain in 2024, anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available, where we can all discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them.

This year’s release list includes the works of several prominent filmmakers, including Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. But 2024 is particularly momentous because Disney’s Steamboat Willie — widely considered the debut of Mickey and Minnie Mouse — is among the titles that are now copyright-free. Jennifer Jenkins explains why the release of a 95-year-old cartoon is so significant:

Disney is both an emblem of term extension and its erosion of the public domain, and one of the strongest use-cases in favor of the maintenance of a rich public domain. Mickey is the symbol of both tendencies. Ironies abound. It may not be exactly the same as an oil company relying on solar power to run its rigs, but it is definitely in the same “massive irony” zip code. All of this makes the year when copyright finally expires over Mickey Mouse highly symbolic. The love triangle between Mickey, Disney, and the public domain is about to evolve, and perhaps even resolve, in real time.

Mickey Mouse isn’t the only beloved childhood icon who appears in this year’s list of releases, however. A. A. Milne’s House at Pooh Corner (which introduced the character of Tigger to the world) and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up lead this year’s list of books and plays. Other now-public books and plays include Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train.

As for songs and musical compositions, this year’s list include Animal Crackers by the Marx Brothers, “Mack the Knife,” Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” and “I Wanna Be Loved by You” by Herbert Stothart, Harry Ruby, and Bert Kalmar, which helped inspire Betty Boop.

There are many reasons to celebrate a new year. January 1 represents new opportunities, new possibilities, and new resolutions. And with Public Domain Day, January 1 also represents the expansion of our shared cultural heritage, and a reminder that there’s still so much more out there in need of preserving.

Via Cory Doctorow.

Enjoy reading Opus? Want to support my writing? Become a subscriber for just $5/month or $50/year.
Subscribe Today
Return to the Opus homepage