The start of a new year means the end of copyright protection for a variety of books, songs and movies—and a bonanza of free titles for pop-culture fans. For 2021, these will include works by novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, actor Buster Keaton, composer Irving Berlin and mystery master Agatha Christie.
These are some of the more famous names that will join the likes of Shakespeare and Beethoven in the public domain. Others include jazz musicians and poets from the Harlem Renaissance, and literary characters like Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams.
All of the newly-free works were first published in 1925. You can find a more comprehensive list on the website of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, a Duke University project that tracks copyright expirations. Meanwhile, sites like Project Gutenberg offer a way to download e-versions of books like The Great Gatsby that, as of January 1, are free forever.
The new status of these works is significant because 2021 will mark the second year the public domain is being replenished after a two-decade drought when no new works became available.
The recent dearth of new public-domain works came about because of a decision by Congress in 1998 to extend copyright protection from 75 years to 95 years. Critics of the change have pointed out that it didn’t do much to incentivize the creation of new works—the nominal purpose of copyright—and that it appeared to be a sop to Disney, which sought to resist surrendering intellectual property over early Mickey Mouse films.
This year’s slate is also especially important because of the pandemic. The temporary closing of many libraries, along with a push by the publishing industry to impose new limits on ebook lending, has made it harder for many in the country to access books. A new infusion of public-domain works will help alleviate that.
And in 2022, the copyright will expire on a series of other notable works, including Winnie-the-Pooh and The Sun Also Rises.
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