In January 1, 2022, copyrighted works from 1926 will enter the US public domain, where they will be free for all to copy, share, and build upon. The line-up this year is stunning. It includes books such as A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, Felix Salten’s Bambi, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues, and Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope. There are scores of silent films—including titles featuring Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Greta Garbo, famous Broadway songs, and well-known jazz standards. But that’s not all. In 2022 we get a bonus: an estimated 400,000 sound recordings from before 1923 2 will be entering the public domain too!
What’s more, for the first time ever, thanks to a 2018 law called the Music Modernization Act, a special category of works—sound recordings—will finally begin to join other works in the public domain. On January 1 2022, the gates will open for all of the recordings that have been waiting in the wings. Decades of recordings made from the advent of sound recording technology through the end of 1922—estimated at some 400,000 works—will be open for legal reuse.
- A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, decorations by E. H. Shepard
- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rise
- Dorothy Parker, Enough Rope (her first collection of poems)
- Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues
- T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (later adapted into the film Lawrence of Arabia)
- Felix Salten, Bambi, A Life in the Woods
- Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
- Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
In 2022, experts estimate that some 400,000 sound recordings published before 1923 will enter the public domain! They will become free for all to download, remix, or use in a soundtrack.
- Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds, Crazy Blues, Don’t Care Blues, That Thing Called Love, and You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down (Perry Bradford)
- Ethel Waters, Down Home Blues (Tom Delaney) and There’ll Be Some Changes Made (Benton Overstreet, Billy Higgins)
- Sophie Tucker, Some of These Days (Shelton Brooks) and Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down (Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar)
- Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartets, Jelly Roll Blues (Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton)
- Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (see story) (Traditional African-American spiritual song)
- Vess L. Ossman, Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
- Bert Williams, Nobody and Let It Alone (Bert Williams, Alex Rogers), and Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar (Ed Rose, Billy Baskette, Lew Pollack)
- Billy Murray, Give My Regards to Broadway and The Grand Old Rag (Flag) (George M. Cohan), Alexander’s Ragtime Band (Irving Berlin)
- Harry Lauder, Roamin’ in the Gloamin’ (Harry Lauder)
- Enrico Caruso performances from operas such as Rigoletto and La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi), La Bohème (Giacomo Puccini), and Pagliacci (Ruggero Leoncavallo); songs such as Over There (George M. Cohan, French lyrics Louis Delamarre) and O Sole Mio (Neapolitan folk song)
- Pablo Casals, Bourée (Johann Sebastian Bach) and Dream of Love (Liebestraum) (Franz Liszt)
Movies Entering the Public Domain
- For Heaven’s Sake (starring Harold Lloyd)
- Battling Butler (starring Buster Keaton)
- The Son of the Sheik (starring Rudolph Valentino)
- The Temptress (starring Greta Garbo)
- Moana (docufiction filmed in Samoa)
- Faust (German expressionist classic)
- So This Is Paris (based on the play Le Réveillon)
- Don Juan (first feature-length film to use the Vitaphone sound system)
- Bye Bye Black Bird (Ray Henderson, Mort Dixon)
- Snag It (Joseph ‘King’ Oliver)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Irving Berlin)
- Black Bottom Stomp (Ferd ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton)
- Someone To Watch Over Me (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin
Many of the works featured above are famous; that is why we included them. Their copyright holders benefitted from 20 more years of copyright because the works had enduring popularity and were still earning royalties. But when Congress extended the copyright term for works like The Sun Also Rises, it also did so for all of the works whose commercial viability had long subsided. For the vast majority—probably 99%—of works from 1926, no copyright holder financially benefited from continued copyright. Yet they remained off limits, for no good reason. (A Congressional Research Service report indicated that only around 2% of copyrights between 55 and 75 years old retain commercial value. After 75 years, that percentage is even lower. Most older works are “orphan works,” where the copyright owner cannot be found at all.)
Now that these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available to the public. This enables access to our cultural heritage—access to materials that might otherwise be forgotten. As mentioned earlier, 1926 was a long time ago and the majority of works from that year are out of circulation. When they enter the public domain in 2022, anyone can republish or post them online. (Empirical studies have shown that public domain books are less expensive, available in more editions and formats, and more likely to be in print—see here, here, and here.) The works listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more works are waiting to be rediscovered.
Unfortunately, part of this iceberg has already melted. The fact that works from 1926 are legally available does not mean they are actually available. After 95 years, many of these works are already lost or literally disintegrating (as with old films and recordings 13 ), evidence of what long copyright terms do to the conservation of cultural artifacts. One of the films from 1926 we considered featuring was The Great Gatsby, an adaptation of the 1925 novel. But that film has reportedly been lost to history. 14 For the material that has survived, however, the long-awaited entry into the public domain is still something to celebrate.
Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain Shares a Preview of What’s Entering the U.S. Public Domain on January 1, 2022
Filed by December 29, 2021on