January 1st 2010 was Public Domain Day, when around the world various works fell out of copyright and into the public domain. Back in November we put together a rough list of which works fall into the public domain:

You can find the list of 563 authors on our Public Domain Works project, which is a simple registry of artistic works that are in the public domain:

The list can be sorted by author surname, birth date, death date and number of works by clicking on the relevant headings. Notable authors include the poets William Butler Yeats and Osip Mandelstam, as well as the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud.

There were celebrations in Poland and Switzerland. Communia, the EU policy network for the digital public domain launched a new website at:

The Telegraph celebrated Public Domain Day with an editorial from Shane Richmond, Head of Technology:

Happy Public Domain Day everyone! Today is the day that copyright expires on a whole range of works. As we reported this morning, from today works by Sigmund Freud, WB Yeats, Ford Madx Ford and illustrator Arthur Rackham are today part of the public domain. They can be made cheaply available as educational editions, translated into braille or made into audiobooks, all without anyone needing to give permission or any fees changing hands. They are also available to be reinterpreted and re-used by new artists.

The Telegraph also reported an announcement from Wikimedia UK inviting people to upload sources to Wikimedia Commons:

Wikimedia UK anticipates January 1, “Public Domain Day”, 2010 being a great year for additions to the digital Wikimedia Commons. The poetry of W. B. Yeats, the works of Sigmund Freud, and Arthur Rackham’s classic children’s book illustrations all enter the public domain. When the complexities of copyright no longer encumber reuse of old works, a work that has been a “sleeper” can become a new classic. Perhaps the definitive example of this is “It’s a Wonderful Life“, the 1946 Frank Capra film that became a Christmas classic in the 1980s.

Wikimedia UK promotes the uploading of copyright-free text to Wikisource, a sister site to Wikipedia, so that it can be widely enjoyed. Audio recordings of public domain works may be added to the Wikimedia Commons site, and Wikimedia UK invites you to join us and help digitise and preserve our common cultural heritage. You can make it available for everyone to share, build on, and simply enjoy.

On a less happy note, copyright scholar James Boyle at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain writes:

What is entering the public domain in the United States? Sadly, 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. Or the year after that. In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019. And wherever in the world you live, you now have to wait a very long time for anything to reach the public domain. When the first copyright law was written in the United States, copyright lasted 14 years, renewable for another 14 years if the author wished. Jefferson or Madison could look at the books written by their contemporaries and confidently expect them to be in the public domain within a decade or two. Now? In the United States, as in most of the world, copyright lasts for the author’s lifetime, plus another 70 years. And we’ve changed the law so that every creative work is automatically copyrighted, even if the author does nothing. What do these laws mean to you? As you can read in our analysis here, they impose great (and in many cases entirely unnecessary) costs on creativity, on libraries and archives, on education and on scholarship. More broadly, they impose costs on our entire collective culture. […] We have little reason to celebrate on Public Domain Day because our public domain has been shrinking, not growing.

More detailed comment and analysis from the Centre is available at:

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Dr. Jonathan Gray is Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies at the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, where he is currently writing a book on data worlds. He is also Cofounder of the Public Data Lab; and Research Associate at the Digital Methods Initiative (University of Amsterdam) and the médialab (Sciences Po, Paris). More about his work can be found at jonathangray.org and he tweets at @jwyg.

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