On January 1, 2019, all works copyrighted in the United States in 1923 will lapse into the public domain. This is a huge deal: Works in the public domain are free for anyone to use in any way, forever (at least in the eyes of U.S. law). Copyrights used to be for 75 years. In 1998, a law was passed that changed it to 95 years. And so, for 20 years, the expirations stopped, frozen at 1922.
(Edit: According to this Ars Technica article, the gap was actually 40 years, because the 1998 legislation piggybacked on a preexisting freeze.)
Eight months from now, the wait will be over. Lifehacker and the Atlantic have good articles on the copyright process, but to really dig into what will be available, you want to hit up Wikipedia, civilizations ultimate info dump. (Full disclosure, I’m cribbing most of these links from the Lifehacker article, which is absolutely worth reading.)
- Books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1923_in_literature#New_books
- Art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1923_in_art#Works
- Movies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_films_of_1923
- Music: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1923_in_music
- EVERYTHING: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/cce/to1949.html#y1923
(Note that for music, the copyright refers only to sheet music, not to recording. American sound copyrights were, amazingly, not standardized until 1972; U.S. sound copyright law is an absolute nightmare.)
My interest is that, as an employee of a public access TV station, I’d like to run a marathon of movies on New Year’s Day 2019 to let the public know what’s theirs. I’d also have the names of books and other works that area also likewise available. I believe there would be more support for the public domain if the public knew more about it.
So: What works from 1923 are you looking forward to unrestricted access to?