The US's Public Domain Class Of 2013

from the short-list dept

Every year, we talk about how January 1st is public domain day in many parts of the world, but thanks to constant copyright term extension, the US is left waiting and waiting and waiting — kind of like the famous play by Samuel Beckett, which entered the public domain in many places around the world in 2011, but is still covered by copyright here.

The folks at the Public Domain Review have put together a nice list (and photo!) of the “Class of 2013”: content creators whose works will be going into the public domain on January 1, 2013 in large parts of the world, including the EU, Brazil, Russia and many other places. To help out, I thought I’d put together the list of content creators whose works are entering the public domain in the US in 2013:

Yeah. It looks suspiciously like last year’s list. And the year before that. And before that. And so on. Oh, and also… I hate to ruin the surprise, but next year’s list? Pretty much the same. Year after that? Yeah, that too. For anyone who actually understands the value of the public domain in enriching and enhancing culture, the fact that the US — at the behest of the entertainment industry, which has often mined the public domain for its own works — isn’t just shameful, it’s downright despicable. We’re stifling our own culture.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Right; but sonny bono was passed during a time when lobbists could pass a bill with the support of one well-known artist.

today, there is more research and disclosure. it’s more difficult, by several orders of magnitude, to be as ill-informed as in the past. Wasn’t the Bono copyright act passed in the 1970s..? Things have changed since then.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Copyright Act of 1790: ? 14 year initial term + 14 year renewal term ? = ? 28 years

Copyright Act of 1831: ? 28 year initial term + 14 year renewal term ? = ? 42 years

Copyright Act of 1909: ? 28 year initial term + 28 year renewal term ? = ? 56 years

Copyright Act of 1976: ? life + 50 years ? = ? no definite limit

Copyright Term Extension Act (1998): ? life + 70 years ? = ? no definite limit


(Source: Copyright Timeline: A History of Copyright in the United States)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Everyone does that several times a day, whether they realize it or not. At this point, copyright is just one of many laws that exist simply to provide an excuse for lawsuits, which in turn are simply a way to force people and organizations to either capitulate to arbitrary demands or go bankrupt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“After all, it’s not like these laws can be enforced”. Exactly. It’s against the law to make a copy of a rented DVD, but I do it every week (well, whenever something comes out that I want). Once you have that movie in your possession, what’s to stop you from making a copy in the privacy of your own home? As long as you have a computer, blank discs, and the appropriate programs, you can do it. So the law against doing so is completely unenforceable.

letherial (profile) says:

“We’re stifling our own culture.”

I want to point out that our culture is greed, therefore, its only adding to it.(This policy is quite greedy)

History will view baby boomers culture, who is largely responsible for much of the greed, in a unfavorable light, and it will be looked upon as a culture of greed. This pattern has bleed into generations beyond that, but i think the millennials will put a stop to it once they are in the majority of power.

at least that’s my hope, id like to see my son get old in a far better world then the baby boomers want it to be.

jameshogg says:

Destroying the public domain: taking everything, and giving you nothing in return.

Well who WOULD want to release their works into the public domain? The works always suffer from legal technicalities that allow outsider companies to buy them back into copyright protection.

Just imagine… a self-righteous corporation could take MY works (in the sense that I made them, not the IP sense) that I put into public domain and wriggle around enough until they have copyrighted it FOR THEMSELVES… meaning that I no longer have any say in the creative process of those works. Yes. I as the original artist could get sued for expanding on my works by a corporation that had FUCK ALL to do with the creative process. The very idea. It makes me physically sick.

Copyright is an absolute piss stain in this respect. And the above point means I have to have it on my works… not because I want to use it to go on a sue-streak against others, but because a company might buy it out of the public domain otherwise and go on the sue-streak themselves… in the name of my works. It is a bit like the recent gun debate going on: even although guns are dangerous apparently it is a good idea to have one because everyone else has one, and that we cannot uninvent the gun and etc etc with the excuses… thankfully we CAN uninvent copyright by simply getting rid of it from law. And then once artists get their incentives from virtual ticket websites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter we can then look back on copyright and think “what on Earth was all that about?”

The whole point is there shouldn’t BE any copyright protection to begin with! That way companies would not be able to destroy the public domain. Copyright is a dangerous buck of power that constantly gets passed around to the highest, most powerful bidder all in the name of “saving the artists from slavery”… can anything be more fucking contemptible? Don’t you dare tell me that a mentality that wishes to take the rights and dignity from artists by using works against their will is somehow a mentality that favours the artist more than the corporations.

Eliminate copyright from the equation, get incentives with all-or-nothing crowdfunding, solve the moral issues of defamation, plagiarism, libel, branding and officiality on their own, and take a massive weight off of the artist’s shoulders. Occam’s Razor holds true here: the simplest explanation is probably the best one. Do not multiply unnecessary constants.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Destroying the public domain: taking everything, and giving you nothing in return.

methods of funding is likely more difficult than many people believe and expect. the basis of several generations of usa-based commercial activity and to some extent, capitalizm itself is based on the idea of allocation of property and assets to companies and people who bring a product to market.

so as technology progresses, it becomes easier to develop a product, less costly too. labels and label management is less needed, and adds less value to the sale of product itself. it’s a fairly simple equation, and well, with proper technology, a product such as a music production, that used to require a full band to record, in a studio, can be recorded in someone’s basement, with the final product available for sale much sooner, and easier than it was in the past!

there’s some videos online worth watching, where companies physically press vinyl music records. back then, it was a very laborious process!

today, you just need an iphone and a copy of itunes to buy a cd, where the artists get paid… and if you don’t want any money, just put the music on soundcloud or something FREE!

Rain Day says:

Re: Destroying the public domain: taking everything, and giving you nothing in return.

Just to add a small bit of information to your post…

For new persons who may be reading about this issue for the first time, it should be explained that there is more than just plain copyright, or releasing your work to the public domain for others to plunder and claim copyright on.

Another way to help an artist mitigate the excesses of copyright today (until the day when it can be minimized or abolished completely) is by using a license that bestows rights on those who might wish to use their works.

It’s called copyleft…

Creative Commons is an excellent choice that disallows corporate copyright greed. GPL is another.

Forest Gump says:

RIP Forest 1994-2114

“Stupid is as stupid does” -Forest Gump

^ That saying is copyrighted until the year 2114 by the way. The movie released in 1994 + 120 year copyright term = 2114. That’s the year Forest Gump will enter the public domain and my great, great, great, grand kids can watch it for free.

Oh Forest, how right you were about the stupid people. 🙂

Rain Day says:

It would be interesting to see, alongside the list of things that (didn’t) enter the public domain each year, a list of how much the works released under such copyleft licensed as Creative Commons and GPL have increased each year.

Because those creative persons who care enough to release their works under such public-friendly licenses should be getting some credit – and maybe a bit of supportive publicity -for doing so.

It would be wonderful as each year rolls around to see the vast emptiness of the public domain list emphasized by the steady growth of creativity under copyleft licenses.

In truth, we can mitigate the greed of current copyright until we can minimize or abolish copyright altogether.

average_joe (profile) says:

For anyone who actually understands the value of the public domain in enriching and enhancing culture, the fact that the US — at the behest of the entertainment industry, which has often mined the public domain for its own works — isn’t just shameful, it’s downright despicable. We’re stifling our own culture.

Give me a break with the empty, anti-copyright rhetoric. Culture is alive and well and thriving more than ever. I thought the sky was rising, Mike. Remember?

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The natural state of all works is in the public domain, to be used, edited, copied etc by anyone and everyone. Not to be locked up for longer than anyone can even hope to live.
Yes, culture is alive and thriving now, but it is in DESPITE of copyright, rather than because of it.
So thank you Average_Joe and thank you Disney. Disney had the freedom to take works like Jungle Book and Snow White, works in the public domain, and use the characters and settings there-in to create their own works, safe and secure in the knowledge that no-one could sue them over it. Thank you, for not giving anyone else the same ability, of taking works like Steamboat Willie and using the characters and settings therein to create our own works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I thought the sky was rising, Mike. Remember?

So you’re admitting that the report is valid?

Either the report is valid (thereby making the article wrong) and admitting that Mike is right or the report is invalid, making the current article correct (hence making Mike right in this sense), but making your accusation wrong.

Either way, you can’t be right unless Mike is right on either the report or the article. He can’t be wrong without admitting that you’re wrong as well.

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know if it’s valid or not. I glanced at it and laughed. The point is that Mike is arguing that the sky is falling or the sky is rising, whichever suits the particular purpose at hand. I think in general Mike tends to grab onto whatever argument gets him where he wants to be. It’s not a good thing.

Marilynn Byerly (profile) says:

Public domain books available

This article writer certainly didn’t bother to do his homework. See here for some of the authors missed:

I have to laugh at all those who think that public domain screws corporations. If we dropped copyright or shortened it considerably, the corporations would make a killing with all those books that could be turned into movies and games.

Not to mention all those books that could have zombies or sex inserted in for resale. In the last few months, one publisher has been busy inserting erotic scenes into classics like JANE EYRE. Nothing like a little girl on girl action to trash one of the greatest novels ever written.

Let’s hear it for the value of public domain to improve culture.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Public domain books available

Not one of the authors on the front page on that site you link to is American, and as far as a scan of their wikipedia pages can attest to, they never travelled to the US. What this article is talking about is the fact that no works are entering the public domain under US laws on Jan 1, 2013.

Also, so what about erotic scenes in Jane Eyre? Lovers of literature will know to avoid those like the plague and pick up only original text copies. Are you saying that once someone publishes what is basically a fan edit of a classic, that suddenly all the original text copies are now worthless and that no-one will want them?

Anonymous Coward says:

Public domain books available

From your link…

Please read an important disclaimer about the information presented here.

Additionally, the site you linked to displays a sidebar, entitled ?Links?, which includes the hypertext, ?Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States?

What is entering the public domain in the United States?

Nothing. Once again, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year. Or next year, or the year after that. In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019.?.?.?.

In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019.

Anonymous Coward says:


People who change things are called the “do” people, those that did “do” in the past may not be the right people to “do” it now.

Sometimes I wonder why we cant be more like ants in regards to governance they have no central control center every individual in a colony knows what they need to do, we just should set the parameters with easy rules that everybody understand and nobody would need to be arrested, imprisonment should be the last resort to any society not the first tool to be used.

But I digress, telling us makes all the difference in the world, we like ants can change our own worlds, you are master of your home, declare it a copycrap freezone.

I did, what those people in power will do?

Send me to prison?


Angry (monopolists) in power that are reading this please do so, if you can find me, you can through me in jail or ruin my financial life all you like, but where ever I go it will always be a copyright free zone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Public domain books available

No one said that corporations shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from the public domain or that (big) businesses are inherently a bad thing. Google and Samsung, for example, have been two of the more ethically behaved big businesses around.

and so what if corporations recreate works. That benefits the corporation (recognition) and the public (more works). It’s a win-win situation.

The point is that IP doesn’t benefit the public, it only helps certain businesses and those are the businesses we want out of business. Businesses aren’t inherently a bad thing, businesses benefiting from IP (and businesses who’s existence mostly depends on IP and anti-competitive laws) are inherently a bad thing. IP laws, and anti-competitive laws themselves, are a bad thing. We’re not anti big businesses. We are against businesses that maintain themselves through anti-competitive laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Public domain books available

Businesses (big or small) that maintain themselves through serving the market are a good thing. Businesses that maintain themselves through anti-competitive laws (ie: IP laws, govt. established broadcasting and cableco monopolies, govt. established cableco monopolies) are a bad thing, big or small. It’s not the size of the business, it’s not the prosperity of the business, it’s the business model of the business. Does the business use and abuse anti-competitive laws? Does the business lobby for one sided anti-competitive, anti-consumer laws? If so, GET LOST!!!!

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So you’re actually okay that nothing is entering the public domain any more?

You guys are so ridiculously over-dramatic. Copyright terms were extended by 20 years by the CTEA, so that means that there’s a period of 20 years where works that would have fallen into the public domain do not. We are still in that 20 year period. That 20 year extension ends in six years (I think), so that means that works will begin falling into the public domain again soon.

What Mike can’t ever do is back up his claim that this 20 year bump is negatively affecting culture. It’s empty rhetoric based on faith. Mike’s own “Sky is Rising” puff piece shows that he’s simultaneously arguing that culture is blossoming and being starved. It’s silly–and it seems incredibly dishonest.

The fact is, since the 1976 Act makes everything copyrighted upon fixation, the public domain will be greater than ever. You guys want it all right now, but that’s not the bargain that copyright strikes. I’m sorry that you can’t see past the end of your nose.

But to pretend that culture is suffering is stupid. I am surrounded by so much culture that it’s crazy. You can cherry pick a couple of scenarios where someone wanted to do something but couldn’t (Techdirt’s specialty), but on balance culture is alive an well. Copyright is a trade-off, and it brings us many, many, many wonderful works that we all enjoy. You guys love those works so much that you’re willing to violate other people’s rights to get them. That sort of says it all, I think.

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Which side will you support when the next effort is made to extend copyright to prevent those works falling into the public domain?

I don’t think there will be any serious move to extend it yet again, despite the anti-copyright hysteria to the contrary. If someone suggested another extension, I’d be curious to know why they thought it was needed since I don’t think it’s possible to know what the optimal term of copyright is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Of course there is a way is called common sense.

Artificial monopolies are bad they create a lot of problems and that is why they should last the minimum possible, in the case of the media industry that should be what 1 to 5 years maybe 10 maximum, which is the time most media stop being profitable at all, except for some rare ones.

But the “franchise” people won’t let that happen will they because they want to be the only ones milking that cow until kingdom come.

Anonymous Coward says:


So you’re actually okay that nothing is entering the public domain any more?

Debate in the House of Representatives on the ?Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act?, Congressional Record, Oct 7, 1998

Mrs. BONO: ??? Mr. Speaker, I rise to extend my deep appreciation to my colleagues, including the gentleman from Florida, for honoring Sonny with the legislation before us today. I support this bill and ask my colleagues to do the same. Copyright term extension is a very fitting memorial for Sonny. This is not only because of his experience as a pioneer in the music and television industries. The most important reason for me was that he was a legislator who understood the delicate balance of the constitutional interests at stake. Last year he sponsored the term extension bill, H.R. 1621, in conjunction with Sen. HATCH. He was active on intellectual property issues because he truly understood the goals of Framers of the Constitution: that by maximizing the incentives for original creation, we help expand the public store-house of art, films music, books and now also, software. It is said that ??it all starts with a song,?? and these works have defined our culture to audiences world-wide.

Actually, Sonny wanted the term of copyright protection to last forever. I am informed by staff that such a change would violate the Constitution. I invite all of you to work with me to strengthen our copyright laws in all of the ways available to us. As you know, there is also Jack Valenti?s proposal for term to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress.?.?.?.


[ Historical note: ? Following the death of singer, actor and politician Sonny Bono in a freak skiing accident, his widow, Mary Bono, was chosen to fill his seat as congresswoman for California’s 44th district. ]

Anonymous Coward says:


I thought the sky was rising, Mike. Remember?

I think these jokers are waking up to a bad hangover; the pirate orgy just isn’t happening anymore and despite attempts at being willfully blind, they just can’t ignore reality anymore.

When I first came here, this place was full of rationalizations for piracy; now it’s just an endless stream of complaints about the law finally being enforced.

Just as I predicted would happen, and just as hilarious to watch unfold.

Karma does not spare thieves.

Anonymous Coward says:


Sure the culture monopolists thieves are hurting about now.

Also what pirate orgy?

The one where everybody can copy anything they like?

Do you know how easy it is to copy a Disney movie?


Too copy a 99 title from Disney or Spielberg you do the following.

– Dump the contents of the DVD onto a file using normal copy and paste procedures or an archive manager.
– Rename the last IFO, BUP files to something like “VTS_20_0.BUP(renamed)”.
– Voila, now it plays in any player on your computer, now just dump the streams you want into a file and delete the folder.

Merry Christmas.

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Don't forget about unpublished works...

If it is any consolation, there will be works entering the public domain in the US on 1 January 2013: the unpublished works of any author who died in 1942. And unlike as in the EU, these works cannot be put back into copyright by publishing them for the first time.

Interesting… What’s the reason for that, though? Maybe I’m just brain-farting, but I thought that unpublished works pre-1976 Act wouldn’t have had any federal copyright protection to begin with since the protection began with publication. How can they fall into the public domain if they were never protected in the first place?

Peter Hirtle (profile) says:

Re: Re: Don't forget about unpublished works...

Average_joe: prior to 1978, you sense would have been right. Unpublished works (with a few minor exceptions) did not receive federal copyright protection. Instead they were protected by state common law rights, which were perpetual. They would only enter the federal public domain when published and the federal clock started ticking, which is why a letter written in 1755 can still be protected by copyright.

With the 1976 Act, unpublished works were brought into the federal system and given a life + 70 term. So that means, for example, that any unpublished letters, manuscripts, diaries, etc. in the Stefan Zweig collection at SUNY-Fredonia will enter the public domain on 1 January 2013, since Zweig committed suicide in 1942.

average_joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't forget about unpublished works...

With the 1976 Act, unpublished works were brought into the federal system and given a life + 70 term. So that means, for example, that any unpublished letters, manuscripts, diaries, etc. in the Stefan Zweig collection at SUNY-Fredonia will enter the public domain on 1 January 2013, since Zweig committed suicide in 1942.

I see it now in Section 303: Thanks for the info! And good job finding a work falling into the public domain this year. Mike will be so happy, I’m sure. Culture is saved!

Fin says:

Public domain books available

@Marilynn Dyerly,
Did you notice that sound over your head? You know the drift – that was the sound of the point you’re missing here.

If you’re arguing that 2, 3 or even 10 works of art entering the public domain this year, or the next one, is a valid argument against the disgusting stealing of art copyright keeps committing your argument is bullshit. You can add some cherries to it and eat it. That won’t make it a cake.

Zan says:

The Original Balance

The original 14 years + 14 years renewal seems like the fairest balance. I would add to that by charging a stiff filing fee for renewal and a narrow window to do it within. This would have the effect of keeping only profitable works out of the the public domain the additional years. The problem is that such a reasonable proposal is highly unlikely of ever being enacted. Today corporations have the bulk of politicians catering to their every whim. The result is the complete over-reach of every copyright and patent law. The Constitution doesn’t demand every content creator a profit for their works. It merely tries to strike a balance between promoting the arts and sciences and the good of a having such works enter the public domain for the betterment of all society. That last part is completely ignored by our politicians and despised by their corporate enablers.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: The Original Balance

In the original US copyright law, could you renew a work multiple times?

E.g. someone publishes a book in 1800, then in 1814 renews the copyright as it expires. Could that person then, in 1828, renew it for another 14 years, or is there a maximum 28 year term?

I haven’t been able to get a clear answer on this from my (admittedly precursory) research on the topic.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

I agree. Copyright Law as it stands now is disgusting.

I share with many here the disgust at the current regime of ? law. Nothing enters the public domain via expiration, a lot of works are orphaned, and works automatically get ?’ed just for existing. It’s incredibly inefficient in the 21st century.

The public domain has become the special option rather than the standard option like it should. Because I love the PD so much, I donated three images to Wikimedia Commons with the CC0 tool. Not only that, I wrote my own “Happy Birthday” song which I also dedicated to the public domain with the CC0 tool. It’s too bad that nowadays you have to “opt-out” of ? instead of “opt-in”. 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think it’s a huge deal. There’s a huge treasure trove of public domain material that no one is using. Why not use that? Also, use the Creative Commons stuff. Noones using that. Or, you could make your own stuff. All I ever hear is people complaining how there’s nothing new in the movie theaters anymore, just remakes. And once you make your new material, and all your hard work and marketing leads to success, give it Creative Commons and then you can demonstrate what you’re saying.

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