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Readers Stand to Benefit from Mass Works Newly Released to Public Domain

As of January 1, 2019, tens of thousands of books, cartoons, movies, and more published in 1923 entered the public domain.

It’s a big deal. The Internet Archive held a party in San Francisco to celebrate.

What’s this mean, exactly? The New York Times summarized this momentous occasion quite nicely:

This coming year marks the first time in two decades that a large body of copyrighted works will lose their protected status — a shift that will have profound consequences for publishers and literary estates, which stand to lose both money and creative control. But it will also be a boon for readers, who will have more editions to choose from, and for writers and other artists who can create new works based on classic stories without getting hit with an intellectual property lawsuit.

Here’s just a smattering of books whose copywright has expired:

  • The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
  • New Hampshire by Robert Frost (winner of the Pulitzer Prize)
  • Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Rootabaga Pigeons by Carl Sandburg (NC Literary Hall of Fame inductee)
  • The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

And many more, including works by Marcel Proust, Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton, P. G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling, Katherine Mansfield, and Wallace Stevens.

“The public domain forms the building blocks of culture because these works are not restricted by copyright law,” explains The Internet Archive. “Generally, works come into the public domain when their copyright term expires. But U.S. copyright law has greatly expanded over time, so that now many works don’t enter the public domain for a hundred years or more. Ever since the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, no new works have entered the public domain (well, none due to copyright expiration). But for the first time this January, tens of thousands of books, films, visual art, sheet music, and plays published in 1923 will be free of intellectual property restrictions, and anyone can use them for any purpose at all.”

We can guess your next question: where can I download these titles for free?

The aforementioned Internet Archive has already uploaded some 15,000 written works published in 1923. HathiTrust, a digital archiving project, has uploaded some 50,000 works published that year.

And if you wait just a few months, perhaps even less, you can bet your bottom dollar plenty of publishers will be releasing their own redesigned and nicely packaged editions of all the famous works newly available in the Public Domain.

That said, we’re kinda most excited about all the new mash-up possibilites.

Perhaps a “new” Agatha Christie mystery set in Gibran’s Lebanon, where enterprising, aristocratic Brits, hoping to build a premiere golf course outside Orphalese, suddenly start dying off. Is a local, usually peaceful, activist sect of mystics–who seem to hold the secret to life–actually to blame?

What mash-ups would you like to see?