Thursday, January 6, 2022

Welcoming 2022 and New Public Domain Works

 Happy New Year! There are many reasons to celebrate the start of a new year, but one reason particularly relevant for artists, writers, or other people looking to adapt and use artistic works is the occurrence of a new Public Domain Day. I wrote about the history of this day in the U.S. and some common public domain questions last year. In essence, January 1 is the day on which a new set of works previously protected by copyright pass into the public domain in the United States and become available for free use. Public Domain Day 2022 is only the fourth such day in the U.S. since the 90s and continues to be exciting, as works from 1926 enter the public domain.

Particularly notable this year is the entry of an estimated 400,000 pre-1923 sound recordings into the U.S. public domain. This is the first Public Domain Day featuring sound recordings, as a result of some quirks of sound recording protection and the reforms of the 2018 Music Modernization Act. This inaugural group includes recordings of well-known jazz, ragtime, and vaudeville performances, some of which are available at the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox. Licensing sound recordings can be a very confusing and expensive endeavor, yet virtually every business incorporates music in some aspect of its operations or advertising. Sound recordings are especially helpful for entrepreneurs and businesses that engage in multimedia advertising, produce content such as videos or podcasts, or that play music on their commercial premises.

Selecting sound recordings and musical compositions that are already in the public domain is an easy way to reduce the risk associated with using music. One important note, however: the works entering the public domain are these specific recordings, so other recordings of the same song (e.g. a performance by a different artist or a recording from a later date) may not be free to use.

Outside of sound recordings, the list of other works entering the public domain in the U.S. is still impressive. It includes well-known children’s works such as Winnie-the-Pooh, the first Winnie the Pooh book by A. A. Milne (though subsequent Winnie the Pooh books are not yet in the public domain) and Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, as well as certain novels and poems by Dorothy Parker, Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Agatha Christie, and more. Also entering the public domain are 1926 films including Faust, Battling Butler, For Heaven’s Sake, The Temptress, and So This Is Paris. More works are listed at Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

A knowledge of copyright protection and licensing—including when a license is not needed because a work is in the public domain—is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of any small business or entrepreneur. Public Domain Day is a great opportunity not only to revisit these older creative works but also to think about how we incorporate and adapt art in our personal and business lives. Here’s to a happy and creative 2022!

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