Public Domain Day or International Public Domain Day is observed on January 1. This is the day when copyrights to certain works expire (mostly 70 years after the death of the last known author or creator) and the projects enter public domain, where it is freely accessible to everyone. This year, works like Disney’s “Winnie-the-Pooh” will be entering the public domain. The significance of this day is that as soon as any content or work (books, poetry, painting) becomes public domain, anyone can build on it, revise it, add it to new works, or use it for new publications without needing permission. The content becomes easily and freely accessible to the general public. Although the duration for copyright laws varies from country to country, in the U.S. and most other countries it’s 70 years after the death of the last known author.
History of Public Domain Day
It is unclear when the world formally began celebrating Public Domain Day, but the earliest mentions of this day date back to 2004 by Lawrence Lessig. Lawrence is an American attorney, academic, and political activist who works on the relaxation of laws supporting copyright and trademarks issues regarding technology.
Ever since he founded his non-profit organization, Creative Commons, he has been devoted to creating creative works and making them available for others to build upon and to share legally. His project, Project Gutenberg, under Creative Commons, is dedicated to digitizing and archiving public domain works, making them digitally accessible to a wider user base. The organization aims to transform as many classic works as possible into ebooks available to the public.
Public Domain Day has been celebrated at a conference level since 2005, and such conferences have been hosted on various dates in various countries, including Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Israel. The first hosting and observance of this day as a proper day to celebrate works entering the public domain was in 2011. With continuous support from other organizations, the day, which was celebrated only in the U.S., cut the attention of the media and has become widespread.
Although observing this day became a practice in many countries and was hosted by various other N.G.O.s, the first practically significant Public Domain Day in America was celebrated in 2019, as it was the first year when the copyrights of classical and meaningful works would expire.
Public Domain Day timeline
The first Public Domain Day is observed by Lawrence Lessig.
A board to review works that have entered the public domain is created by Open Knowledge Foundation.
A celebration of this day is announced in 2012 at a conference in Warsaw, Poland, to make this day an annual occurrence.
After a 20-year imposition of this act, the Act was finally abolished and the expiry dates of practically significant works approached.
Public Domain Day FAQs
Is every copyright expired work public domain?
Technically, any work that has lost its copyright is public domain, but whether it is there to be made accessible to the general public remains an issue.
Would anyone’s continuation of a previously copyrighted work make it canon?
No! The original work of the author will always remain canon. Any new adaptation or continuation will be considered user-generated and hence would be non-canon.
Can public domain works be legally sold?
Selling public domain works is perfectly legal, but understanding the laws connected to the copyrighted works and who lost the copyrights remains a complicated and complex matter. Hence, one needs to be thoroughly clear on what can or cannot be sold.
How to Observe Public Domain Day
Prepare a skit
For any play that becomes public domain, prepare a skit with a modern touch to celebrate its free access.
Continue the story your own way
Give a fitting end to the work as per your wishes. Do it in a way that it ends up or continues the way you always wanted it to be.
Organize events to celebrate the existence of the authors of the works that enter the public domain, and honor them.
5 Facts About The Public Domain Everyone Should Know
Works published in 1925 are public domain
The works that were published in 1925 lost their copyright status and became public domain in 2021.
"Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The Blue Lagoon"
The famous work "Winnie-the-Pooh and the romantic novel series "The Blue Lagoon" will be entering the public domain in 2022.
Shakespeare has always been public domain
Shakespeare’s works have always been in the public domain, hence the reason there have been so many adaptations of his works.
Copyrights expire after 70 years
After 70 years of the author’s death, or 95 years in case of a corporate authorship publication, the copyrights expire, unless an extension of the term is sought.
2020: first International Public Domain Day
The year 2020 welcomed the first International Public Domain Day — before 2020, it was a geographically restricted event.
Why Public Domain Day is Important
To acknowledge cultural heritage and shared knowledge
Often, we are too ignorant about the value of the works to which we have free access. For example, the works of Shakespeare are so common and known to everyone that sometimes one simply disregards the quality of text and language in the works. Public Domain Day reminds us of the value of those works and makes us acknowledge the efforts of the people who wrote or made them.
Promote scientific and artistic progressions
As the copyrights expire, the availability of important scientific and artistic advancements and related knowledge becomes public knowledge, and so they can be used to perform advanced research on those topics. This in turn promotes the progressions of knowledge, fostering innovation.
Newer interpretations on canonical works
When access to these works becomes free, newer interpretations of the original works that are more centric to public opinions can be made. This will result in new remixes and collaborations of different people and institutions to develop and enhance the original work into greater depths and relevance.
Public Domain Day dates