January 2, 2024
From familiar classics to obscure treasures, a trove of literature, art, film, and music has just become easier to access. On January 1, thousands of books, films, plays, artworks, sound recordings, and more entered the public domain, which means they may be used freely without compensating or needing to obtain permission from the owner.
Most notable on the list this year are the very first adventures of Disney icon Mickey Mouse—and Minnie!—in Steamboat Willie and the silent version of Plane Crazy. These pieces in particular have stirred a lot of interest: in 1984, their copyright term was 54 years, but Disney pushed for an additional 20 years—derisively called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by scholars—which brings us to its release in 2024.
Some other phenomenal additions to the public domain this year include the perennial favorite picture book Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág, which has the distinction of being the earliest American children’s book still in print. Literary heavyweights like W.E.B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover—among many others—are joined by two of the first “all-talking” films ever released, Lights of New York and In Old Arizona.
And don’t forget about some of our favorite children’s book characters, like Peter Pan and the Darling children, who first appeared in a play in 1904, then in book form in 1911, in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up—now in the public domain because it wasn’t “published” for copyright in the U.S. until 1928. And, of course, there’s Christopher Robin and his friends in the Seven Acre Wood. E.H. Sheperd’s quintessential illustrations in A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner introduced us to Tigger.
Explore an in-depth list and stories behind more of these works by Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.
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