Movies, Music, and Books That Enter the Public Domain Today

By Matt Novak on at

Today isn’t just a day to nurse your hangover from New Year’s Eve – it’s also a day to celebrate the public domain. Movies, books, music, and more from 1924 are all entering the public domain today, meaning that you’re free to download, upload, and share these titles however you see fit. And it’s completely legal.

Some titles from 1924, like the movie The Thief of Baghdad, already entered the public domain because there were stricter rules about registering copyright before the 1970s. If a copyright holder forgot to renew a copyright or put a mandatory copyright notice on their work, it could slip into the public domain accidentally.

But there are plenty of other works that finally lose their copyright-protected status on January 1, 2020, like classic movies from silent-era comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. There are also books from Thomas Mann and E. M. Forster, and an English translation of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a pioneering dystopian science fiction novel from the Soviet Union.

Even George Gershwin’s song “Rhapsody in Blue,” one of the most famous songs of the 20th century, finally becomes public domain today. While the list below, inspired by the work of Duke Law’s Centre For the Study of the Public Domain and the Public Domain Review, may not be comprehensive, it’s a good place to start.

If something was published in 1924 or earlier, it’s no longer protected by copyright as of today. And if you’re waiting for stuff from 1925 to become public domain you have to wait exactly one year. January 1, 2021 isn’t so far away.

Movies

Music

  • “Rhapsody in Blue,” George Gershwin
  • “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good,” music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin
  • “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” music Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman
  • “Lazy,” Irving Berlin
  • “Jealous Hearted Blues,” by Cora “Lovie” Austin (composer, pianist, bandleader)
  • “Santa Claus Blues” by Charley Straight and Gus Kahn

Books

And while it’s fantastic that these works have finally entered the public domain, Duke Law also has a blog post about the things that could have entered the public domain today if the copyright laws that existed until 1978 didn’t get radically extended.

Just imagine. If copyright law hadn’t become so warped, movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. What a world.