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I'm Andrew. I write about the past and future of tech, music, media, culture, art, and activism. This is my blog.

Public Domain Day 2022

Posted: January 1, 2022

Happy New Year! January 1st is Public Domain day in the United States. All film, books, poetry, photos, and scores originally published in 1926 are now in the Public Domain in the US. Additionally, and significantly, this year marks the first time that any Audio Recordings have entered the public domain. You, and all Americans, now own more than 400,000 of these historic recordings. What does it all mean? And which works are in the public domain now?

What does it mean for a work to enter the public domain?

In their Excellent as always write up on this year’s public domain class, Duke University’s Jennifer Jenkins says:

Now that these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available to the public. This enables access to our cultural heritage—access to materials that might otherwise be forgotten. As mentioned earlier, 1926 was a long time ago and the majority of works from that year are out of circulation. When they enter the public domain in 2022, anyone can republish or post them online.

And she calls this the Tip of a metling Iceberg. It’s a good metaphor. We are bad at historical preservation of copyrighted works although many of us are working to change that, and it is especially poignent this year as the first film adaptation of The Great Gatsby enters the public domain. It’s ours now, or it would be if it still existed. (It’s been lost for decades, because it was no longer commercially viable.)

I think that to focus completely on access sells things a little short. Sure, we can share these works as is, but we can also adapt them, change them, reprocess them, and use them to explore our modern world.

Citzen DJ from the Library Of Congress is a project to enable sampling and remixing public domain works, and weaving them in to something new. As of today, they can legally include any pre 1923 sound recording (and it looks like they will add them soon.)

When a book enters the public domain, that opens things up for projects like Standard Ebooks to carefully craft them in to new digital editions.

When any work enters the public domain, that opens things up for projects like the Gaming Like it’s 1926 Public Domain Game Jam.

Basically, as of today, we can adapt these works for the screen, or set the to music, record covers, produce new arrangements, make remixes, sample, and create something new.

So what entered the public domain?

Lots of stuff, but here are some highlights:

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And, of course, all of this is in addition to all the works from 1926 that were already in the public domain, such as The General.

So when can I use this stuff?

It depends! Just because it’s legal for these works to be shared and remixed now doesn’t automatically meant that they will become available. Only through the dedicated effort of lots of volunteers and institutions do these works actually get digitized and shared.

So if there’s something you’re itching to get at (linking Citizen DJ to the National Jukebox for example) wait a few hours, or a few days. It’ll probably happen. If that’s too slow for you, you can start tracking down originals and digitizing them yourself, or help fund the work done by The Internet Archive, Hathitrust, or one of the other great libraries, museums, institutions, or archives that makes this content available.


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