Finding content to repurpose is a big part of what I do. One of the best sources of free content that can be reused, resold, and repurposed is the public domain.
Content in the United States is protected by copyright. For more than 20 years, there was no new content released into the public domain thanks to a law passed in 1998, which added an additional 20 years of protection to works still under copyright. 2019 was the first year in decades that saw the release of new content into the public domain.
Unless the laws change again, we can expect additional titles to be released every year. Since we’re at the beginning of 2020, I thought it would be helpful to let you know about some of the works that were released on January 1. These works were all created and copyrighted in 1924.
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Books and Literature
Public domain books and literature are a wonderful resource for everything from quotes to characters. I’m going to highlight a few of the works that are particularly well-known and interesting, and then I’ll link to the rest of the titles in each category.
- Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates. It’s important to note that with a book series or a recurring character, you’ll need to be extremely cautious. Some of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries are still protected by copyright and I wouldn’t recommend using the Poirot character.
- M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Note that the film adaptation is still protected by copyright!
- Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game. There have been multiple film adaptations that are still under copyright.
- Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle’s Circus. The same warning applies here as to Hercule Poirot. This is the 4th book in Lofting’s series.
- P. Lovecraft’s short story, “The Rats in the Walls”
- Eugene O’Neill’s play, Desire Under the Elms
- Pablo Nerudas poetry collection, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
You can find a full list of the books, plays, and poetry released into the public domain in 2020 here. They include works by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), Mark Twain, and Herman Melville.
I think that this is a very exciting year for music in the public domain. Even if you’re not someone who listens to much old music, there are several titles released this year that I think you’ll recognize. Keep in mind that the songs themselves are in the public domain. Recordings made in 1924 will not be released into the public domain until 2025. Compositions released this year include:
- It Had to Be You – a classic tune used in films such as When Harry Met Sally…
- George and Ira Gershwin’s classic musical Lady, Be Good! which included well-known songs such as Fascinating Rhythm and Oh Lady, Be Good
- California, Here I Come
- What’ll I Do, a well-known song written by the legendary Irving Berlin
- George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (this is a classical composition and arguably one of the most instantly recognizable pieces of instrumental music ever written)
- I’ll See You in My Dreams
- Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?
- Turandot, an opera by Giacomo Puccini
You can find a full list of the musical compositions released into the public domain in 2020 here. Again, remember that this release applies only to the composition, meaning that you may use the sheet music, lyrics, or create new recordings. Recordings of these songs made in 1924 will not be in the public domain until January 1, 2025 under the Music Modernization Act.
One of the exciting things about the new and upcoming public domain releases is that they include many well-known films. Here are some of the most recognizable titles released in 2020:
- Two of Buster Keaton’s films, Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator
- Shorts by Lauren and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Our Gang/The Little Rascals
- Isn’t Life Wonderful and America by D.W. Griffiths
- Clark Gable’s first two film appearances, White Man and Forbidden Paradise. Sadly, White Man is lost, but Forbidden Paradise is available.
- The first film adaptation of Peter Pan
- Dante’s Inferno, a silent film that borrowed plot elements from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
The release of these films into the public domain means that you may use clips and still images from them in your own works. Keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to add something unique to the content you use if you expect people to pay for it. You can find a complete list of all the films created in the United States in 1924 here.
Copyright protection also extends to visual art. I love using artwork in my publishing. Here are some of the works of art that I’m excited to see come into the public domain:
- Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture (one in a series)
- Edward Hopper’s New York Pavements
- Wassily Kandinsky’s Contrasting Sounds
- Three of Paul Klee’s works: Asiatic God, Carnival in the Mountains, and Flower Garden
- Diego Rivera’s Day of the Dead fresco
- Joan Miro’s first work in the Head of a Catalan Peasant series
- George Bellows’s Dempsey and Firpo
- Man Ray’s La Violon d’Ingres
The artwork category includes paintings, illustrations, sculptures, and photographs, You can find a complete list of artistic works copyrighted in 1924 here.
Other Works to Consider
Literature, Music, Film, and Art are the major categories that cover most public domain works. However, you should keep in mind that there are thousands of titles that I didn’t have room to include here. For example, anything published in a periodical in 1924 is now officially in the public domain.
My suggestion is that you spend some time exploring the newly-designated public domain works. Make sure to research everything thoroughly to avoid potential pitfalls. I think the two biggest areas of concern are works in a series and works that have been adapted. You’ll need to be careful, but provided you do the legwork, you can use public domain works to build your publishing business.
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