Last year, we established the tradition of celebrating Public Domain Name Day (January 1) by publishing an article highlighting some of the most interesting authors whose works have entered in the public domain. This January is not an exception and we have prepared a list of the most interesting authors and their works that have entered into public domain in all jurisdictions where the economic component of copyright is exhausted on January 1 of the year following the 70th anniversary of the year in which the author has died.
As indicated in our article last year, there are significant differences between the U.S. and Europe in respect to the calculation of entering into the public domain. On a global scale, these differences can be even greater, and for that reason, one should always carefully consider the expiration of copyright in each particular territory as the same work will have different expiration dates in different jurisdictions.
Last year, the U.S. exited from a 20-year long gap (between 1998 and 2019) during which no works have entered into public domain. This year has brought us some very interesting titles for which the copyright is now exhausted in the U.S., as these works were originally published in 1924 (expiration of copyright in these cases is calculated from the year of first publication of the work and it is not related to year of author’s death). Among many others, such works include The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and The City Without Jews by Austrian filmmaker Hans Karl Breslauer.
To the contrary, copyright duration in the majority of European countries is based on the date of death of an author regardless of the date of the first publication of the particular work (with some exceptions regarding the works of unknown authors and works published under a pseudonym). For that reason, all the works of one author enter in the public domain at the same time. In that sense, the majority of European jurisdictions recognize the system of copyright protection that lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years following the death of the author (or 70 years following the death of the last surviving co-author in the event of co-authorship). In addition, in a number of these countries the date of a work entering into the public domain is calculated from the first day of the year following the year in which the 70th anniversary of the author’s death occurred.
Having in mind this method for calculating copyright duration, the works which entered into the public domain on January 1, 2020 are those created by authors who died in 1949. Among many others, the works of the following authors are now in the public domain:
As we can see from the above list of selected authors, this year has brought us freedom to use works of Nobel Prize laureates, famous composers, writers and film directors, just to name a few. But above all, this Public Domain Name Day has been marked by the expiration of copyright protection over Gone with the Wind, as 3 of the authors involved in the creation of both the novel and the film adaptation of the novel died in 1949. However, those rights will not expire in Mitchell’s, Fleming’s and Wood’s home U.S. until 2031 for the novel and until 2034 for the movie. When that happens, we will make sure to be the first to inform you in our yearly article on copyright expiration.