New Year’s Day was Public Domain Day!
On January 1, 2021, copyright expired for all works published in the United States in 1925. These works entered the public domain. Anyone is now free to share, use, and build on them in the US without permission or payment. Public Domain Day celebrates this trove of books, serials, music, and art that become public property on January 1.
Each January 1st, a new year’s worth of publications will enter the public domain. In 2022, copyright will expire for works published in 1926, and so on. Non-US works may enter the public domain later; this varies by creation date and country of origin. Sheet music from 1925 is entering the public domain this year, but sound recordings do not start entering the public domain till December 1, per the Music Modernization Act.
Some 1925 works were already in the public domain before January 1. This is because the copyright was not registered or renewed in time, under the US laws of the era. Works published after January 1, 1964 had their copyright automatically renewed by statute. But for works published between 1923 and 1964, works automatically entered the public domain if the copyright holder didn’t include a copyright statement at the time of publication or renew their copyright after 28 years.
Unfortunately, searching for the status of these works can be tricky. While copyright records from 1978 to today can be searched online, registrations and renewals for all works prior to 1978 can only be searched onsite in the US Copyright Office’s copyright card catalog. To help the public navigate the status of books published between 1923 and 1963, Stanford University Libraries developed a database of copyright renewals – but note that this only includes renewals for books, and not other copyrighted material like art, sound recordings, film, and so on.
Some Notable Books Entering the Public Domain
The BBC hailed 1925 as perhaps “the greatest year for books ever.”
In 1925, Ernest Hemingway published his first novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald penned The Great Gatsby, and Virginia Woolf wrote Mrs. Dalloway. Alain Locke published The New Negro, a defining work of the Harlem Renaissance that featured essays from Black luminaries such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
- Alain Locke, The New Negro
- Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
- Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
- Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith
- Franz Kafka, The Trial (in German)
- Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans
- John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
- Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys
- James Weldon Johnson, Book of Negro Spirituals
- Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves
- W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
- Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction
- Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai
Other Works Entering the Public Domain
- The first issues of the New Yorker magazine
- Poems by Countee Cullen, Robinson Jeffers, Ezra Pound, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Hilda Doolittle, and many other poets
- “Sweet Georgia Brown” and songs by Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, and many other artists
- Silent movies, including Rudolph Valentino’s starring role in The Eagle
Connecticut-Themed Works Entering the Public Domain
HathiTrust has created a digital collection with 37,530 resources–books, journal issues, research reports, and other items–that entered the public domain on New Year’s Day. Here are Connecticut-themed 1925 works that HathiTrust now makes free for all.
- One-Room and Consolidated Schools of Connecticut
- Yearbook of the Aetna Life Insurance Company
- History of Connecticut in Monographic Form
- Connecticut State Library, Hartford: A Brief Summary of Its Activities
- Annual Report of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
- Connecticut River Banking Company, 1825-1925: One Hundred Years of Service
These resources provide unique historical perspectives on Connecticut’s public education system, research enterprise, finance industry, and libraries.
Some Works from UConn Library and Archives Entering the Public Domain
Search the UConn library catalog for works from 1925 or earlier. Below are just a few of the books in our special collections that were published in 1925.
- Willa Cather, The Professor’s House
- Alain Locke, The New Negro
- Hugh Lofting, Doctor Doolittle’s Zoo
- Donn Byrne, O’Malley of Shanganagh
- James Lane Allen, The Landmark
- Louis F. Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut during the American Revolution, 1775-1783
- Rufus Learsi, Kasriel the Watchman and Other Stories
- Lillian Tryon, The Story of New Britain, Connecticut
- Percival Wilde, The Enchanted Christmas Tree: A Yuletide Play
- Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Made-to-Order Stories
- Elsie Mae Willsey, Tropical Foods
- Walter De La Mare, Broomsticks and Other Tales
Learn More about the Public Domain
James Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008). Download book for free from the author’s website.
January 1st Brings Public Domain Riches from 1925 – Internet Archive blog post.
Public Domain Day 2021 – Duke University, Center for the Study of the Public Domain.