Flip over that calendar, and turn the page not only on the year, but on copyright in many thousands of works. It’s January 1st, which means it’s Public Domain Day in those countries (most of them) where copyrights run for the life of the author, plus so many years, and to the end of that year.
The largest cohort of the world’s countries, with the largest cohort of the world’s population, adheres to the life+50 general rule of copyright: copyright subsists in a work for the life of the author, plus fifty years, and then to the end of that year. This means that in 2010, works whose sole (or last-surviving) author died in 1959, and for which no pecular rule of copyright term applies, have now passed into the public domain.
Where their death dates govern the subsistence of copyright, in the life+50 universe those works authored by American rock musicians The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens; Anglo-American novelist Raymond Chandler; British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein; and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright are now in the public domain.
But the copyright term, like death itself that triggers the life+50 countdown, is democratic. It isn’t only famous authors who enjoy copyright, both during their lifetimes and posthmously, so it isn’t only famous authors whose works entered into the public domain today.
Other authors, or greater or lesser renown, whose works pass into the life+50 public domain today include Antarctic explorer (“The Worst Journey in the World”) Apsley Cherry-Garrard; Russian-American psychoanalyst Gregory Zilboorg; Canadian journalist Wyatt Malcolm; Archbishop of Montreal Joseph Charbonneau; Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic; American theologian and historian William Warren Sweet; English composer Haydn Wood; American playwright and author Maxwell Anderson; Jewish composer and musicologist Lazare Saminsky; Ukrainian Bolshevik Dmitry Manuilsky; United States Secretary of State George C. Marshall; American composer and lyricist Mack Gordon; Argentine politician and Nobel laureate Carlos Saavedra Lamas; American author Octavus Roy Cohen; Canadian academic and politician Sidney Earle Smith; Puerto Rican poet Luis Palés Matos; American singer-songwriter Jack Norworth; American songwriter Archie Gottler; American writer and filmmaker Francis Trevelyan Miller; French geographer and academic André Siegfried; British politician Sir Harry Hope; Norwegian novelist and dramatist Johan Bojer; French writer Boris Vian; Clerk of the Canadian House of Commons Arthur Beauchesne; American writer and critic John Corbin; German musicologist Curt Sachs; Canadian priest and educator Moses Coady; Quebec poet Louis-Joseph Doucet; American composer George Antheil; Icelandic-Canadian journalist Einar Páll Jónsson; British classicist J. A. K. Thomson; French poet and Surrealist Benjamin Péret; Canadian-born Catholic missionary Ambroise Leblanc; British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read; British merchant mariner Sir David William Bone; British statesman Samuel John Gurney Hoare, 1st Viscount Templewood; French physician and parapsychologist Jean Lhermitte; English musicologist Ernest Newman; Belorussia-born Yiddish-language poet and journalist Zalman Shneour; British statesman Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, Earl of Halifax; British composer Robin Humphrey Milford; German artist George Grosz; English poet Edgar Guest; Japanese poet Kiyoshi Takahama; American author (“Big Red”) Jim Kjelgaard; American writer and humorist Wallace Irwin; English Shakesperian scholar W. W. (Walter Wilson) Greg; Canadian English professor William Everett McNeil; Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos; French writer Henri Pourrat; British naval writer Sir Archibald Hurd; Yiddish-language writer Melech Noy; American historian Mary Patterson Clarke; American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles; German chemist Adolf Otto Reinhold Windaus; Russian poet, writer, and mystic Daniil Andreev; American director and writer Preston Sturges; Mexican educator and philosopher José Vasconcelos; American pulp-fiction author Lester Dent; Canadian sociologist and journalist Arthur Saint-Pierre; American science fiction and mystery writer Edwin Balmer; Mexican poet, critic and essayist Alfonso Reyes; Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos; Australian writer Vance Palmer; American romance novelist Grace Louise Richmond; Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů; Alaskan writer (Florence) Barrett Willoughby; American economist Sumner Huber Slichter; French Cardinal Georges Grente; British-born economist Gilbert Edward Jackson; American novelist and poet Frances Frost; Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis; Franco-American academic Albert Léon Guérard; British historian George Malcolm Young; Canadian journalist Louis Blake Duff; Argentinian writer and journalist Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz; Polish-born anthropologist and ethnologist Paul Radin; American film director Cecil B. DeMille; British politician, poet, and journalist John Smith Clarke; English historical novelist and journalist Vaughan Wilkins; American activist and lawyer Aaron Sapiro; Swiss-born musicologist Eric Blom; Swiss composer Ernest Bloch; English economist and historian G. D. H. (George Douglas Howard) Cole; Orcadian poet and novelist Edwin Muir; French essayist Hector Talvart; French composer Charles Borel-Clerc; English naturalist Philip Henry Gosse; Yiddish-language journalist and author Daniel Charney; Swedish politician Elis Wilhelm Håstad; Indian economist and politician John Matthai; British-born novellist Coningsby Dawson; French journalist and literary critic Robert Kemp; Italian physician and psychologist Agostino Gemelli; American art historian Bernard Berenson; Scottish physicist Charles Thomson Rees Wilson; British composer Albert W. Ketèlbey; Icelandic pastor and botanist Sigtryggur Guðlaugsson; French writer Jean de La Varende; Chilean-Canadian composer Alberto Guerrero; Canadian writer Robert J. C. Stead; American literature professor Lane Cooper; Portuguese aviator Gago Coutinho; American writer Milo Milton Quaife; American jazz musician Baby Dodds; American composer George W Meyer; Canadian naval officer, author, and conspiracy theorist William Guy Carr; American composer (“How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm?”) Sam M. Lewis; Australian novelist and poet I. A. R. Wylie; British classical scholar and writer “Mary Fitt” (Kathleen Freeman); Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica; economist Alfred Bonne; French physician Jean Reverzy; English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou; Quebec satirist and humorist Paul Coutlée; American author and songwriter Cliff Hess; English playwright and critic Ashley Dukes; Hungarian-born film director Charles Vidor; Canadian physician Jonathan Campbell Meakins; Japanese poet and playwright “Kafu Nagai” (Nagai Sōkichi); British physicist Owen Willans Richardson; Scottish writer Edwin Muir; French physician Pierre Masson; American geographer Vernor C. Finch; English librarian and historian Sir Edmund Craster; Australian botanist William D. Francis; British politician Harold Marsh Harwood; French writer, poet, and musician Boris Vian; American author and feminist Grace Thompson Seton; French composer René de Buxeuil; Quebec-born Catholic missionary Bonaventure Péloquin; American sociologist William Fielding Ogburn; English novelist “Sax Rohmer” (Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward); English playwright Laurence Housman; art historian Chandler Rathfon Post; Cape Breton author Celia C. Dimock; American musician and composer Sidney Bechet; Canadian geologist and educator L. A. (Loran Arthur) DeWolfe; British author “Clive Holland” (Charles James Hankinson); American director Edmund Goulding; and many, many more.
Unfortunately, many countries in the world have chosen, unwisely, to extend the general term of copyright to life+70, meaning that the critical year to consider in those jurisdictions is 1939. Published works by authors who died in 1939 passed into the life+70 public domain today.
They include those by the famous, such as Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats, Pope Pius XI, British sexologist Havelock Ellis, American author and adventurer Richard Halliburton and American Western novelist Zane Grey.
And again, they include works by lesser-known authors, such as English romance novelist Ethel M. Dell; American philosopher Hartley Burr Alexander; Canadian sculptor Hamilton MacCarthy; British literary scholar Hugh Walker; Scottish surgeon A. Logan Turner; American author and music critic Lawrence Gilman; Massachusetts politician Eugene Foss; French historian Georges Goyau; Polish writer and painter Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz; Austrian dermatologist Ernst Finger; French critic Pierre Lièvre; German politician Philipp Scheidemann; American author and educator Benjamin Griffith Brawley; Danish chemist S. P. L. Sørensen; American historian William Peterfield Trent; American writer Edith O’Shaughnessy; French painter Georges Ricard-Cordingley; Italian historian Ettore Pais; French playwright and novelist Fernand Vandérem; American hymnist Judson Wheeler Van DeVanter; American lawyer and civil libertarian Francis Patrick Walsh; British mathematician S. L. Loney; American clergyman J. P. MacLean; Belgian-American metallurgist Albert Sauveur; Swedish jurist and philosopher Axel Hägerström; French scholar Charles Bémont; Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; American playwright and screenwriter Sidney Howard; Canadian travel writer Mary Townsend Schäffer; English art dealer Joseph Duveen, 1st Baron Duveen; Polish politician Roman Dmowski; English humanitarian Sir Henry Lunn; Belgian musicologist Alfred Wotquenne; Canadian historian W. C. Milner; British admiral Sir Douglas Egremont Robert, 4th Baronet Brownrigg; Scottish author and feminist Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair; Canadian-American humorist and essayist Walt Mason; Irish-born politician and lawyer Robert Wallace; American botanist and civil rights leader Joel Elias Spingarn; German economist and sociologist Emil Lederer; Canadian zoologist J. Playfair McMurrich; Austrian-American psychologist and philosopher Otto Rank; Scottish writer (“The Island Poetess”) Elizabeth Susan MacLeod; Belgian-born missionary priest in western Canada Achille Delaere; French dramatist, critic and historian Léopold Lacour; German-American anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir; French writer Maurice Larrouy; American librarian and author Ernest Cushing Richardson; Mexican political figure and diplomat Francisco León de la Barra; American lyricist (“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”) Joe Young; Puerto Rican author and educator Antonio S. Pedreira; American economist Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman; British liturgical scholar and spiritualist investigator Herbert Thurston; juvenile author Emilie Poulsson; American archaeologist Warren K. Moorehead; Swedish journalist Helmer Key; American bibliographer George Watson Cole; Australian historian Sir Ernest Scott; Spanish poet Antonio Machado; American biologist and zoologist Joseph Grinnell; British officer, official and writer Basil Thomson; Marchmont Herald of Arms in Ordinary John Horne Stevenson; British novelist Mrs Louis Baillie Reynolds; British clergyman and biblical scholar George Albert Cooke; American economist James Harvey Rogers; British novelist Leonard Merrick; French economist Clément Colson; American legal scholar Frank Johnson Goodnow; American neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing; Swiss physician and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner; French philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl; American actress Fay Templeton; American music educator Hollis Dann; German-American composer Abe Holzmann; Russian-American philologist Alexander Harkavy; English writer Ford Madox Ford; American writer Dillon Wallace; British writer Llewelyn Powys; British economis, barrister and historian W. Basil Worsfold; American poet Wallace de Groot Cecil Rice; Canadian composer Achille Fortier; British classical scholar Henry Stuart Jones; French poet and journalist Joseph-Émile Poirier; American publisher Frederick Abbot Stokes; British legal scholar Edward Jenks; Canadian humanitarian Norman Bethune; Native American author, physician, reformer Charles Alexander Eastman; American physician and medical educator Richard C. (Richard Clarke) Cabot; Montreal mayor and politician Fernand Rinfret; Jewish historian and scholar Isaac Husik; British archaeologist (of King Tut fame) Howard Carter; Soviet politician Pavel Petrovich Postyshev; American composer Ernest Schelling; Finnish anthropologist Edward Westermarck; American author Helen Reimensnyder Martin; Canadian inventor of basketball James Naismith; Canadian-born composer George Alfred Grant-Schaefer; Guernsey-born anthropologist Arthur Maurice Hocart; British art critic Alfred Lys Baldry; English writer and social reformer Henry Stephens Salt; travel writer Ella Constance Sykes; Canadian composer (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”) James Edmund Jones; American author Helmuth Carol Engelbrecht; American humorist Harry Leon Wilson; British author and amateur astronomer Agnes Giberne; American social reformer Grace Abbott; Russian revolutionary Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya; Canadian engineer and Senator J. P. B. Casgrain; French art dealer Ambroise Vollard; Polish-American historian and linguist Leo Wiener; French historian and economist Georges, vicomte d’Avenel; French composer Charles Tournemire; Czech painter and decorative artist Alfons Mucha; German playwright and poet Ernst Toller; American historian and archivist James Alexander Robertson; Scottish archaeologist and biblical scholar Sir William Mitchell Ramsay; English geologist Alfred Harker; French philhellene René Puaux; Austrian-American composer Hugo Riesenfeld; British artist Arthur Rackham; Canadian writer and historian Constance Lindsay Skinner; Canadian industrialist and philanthropist Sir Joseph Flavelle; Russian-American journalist Moissaye Joseph Olgin; Canadian writer Solomon Cleaver; French theologian and philosopher Raoul Allier; Lithuanian-born biographer Reuven Brainin; Canadian geologist and explorer A. P. Coleman; Canadian Catholic missionary Jean Marie Pénard; German journalist and science writer Wilhelm Bölsche; American religion professor Alfred Williams Anthony; Australian politician Francis Matthew John Baker; British lawyer Sir Arthur Underhill; Canadian composer Roméo-Clément Larivière; British composer John Foulds; American biographer and historian Ernest Sutherland Bates; Archbishop of Montreal Paul Bruchési; Hungarian-American editor and journalist Fabian Franklin; Canadian historian Ernest Alexander Cruikshank; American-born classical historian Tenney Frank; Canadian priest and historian Azarie Couillard-Després; Scottish-Canadian philosopher John Watson; Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud; Ukrainian educator and writer Anton Makarenko; Canadian agronomist Joseph Hiram Grisdale; Russian-born political and literary historian Dmitry Petrovich Svyatopolk-Mirsky; Swedish-American geologist Waldemar Lindgren; British economist Henry Sanderson Furniss, 1st Baron Sanderson; Austrian novelist Joseph Roth; American writer Sidney Howard; British historian and archivist Reginald Lane Poole; British historian Harold William Vazeille Temperley; American writer and wilderness activist Robert Marshall; American typographic designer Frederic Warde; Romanian-British philologist and manuscript collector Moses Gaster; American professor of French literature Régis Michaud; Scottish-American author John Dawson Ross; Austrian composer Franz Schmidt; Mexican historian and poet Enrique Fernández Ledesma, and many, many more. In the United States, and in most of the life+70 universe, the unpublished works — papers, in other words, many of which are preserved in archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies — of those who died in 1939 are also public domain as of today. Unfortunately, in Canada and the United Kingdom, there will be no Public Domain Day to celebrate in respect of archival documents until 2049 and 2040 respectively.
The public domain is the cultural property and intellectual heritage of an entire people and the entire world in which a given work is now unencumbered by copyright. It’s your public domain to use, adapt, preserve, promote, and enjoy.
Short live copyright! And long live the public domain!