Public Domain Day 2020: These 95-Year-Old Works Are Now Free to Use

In the US, everything copyrighted by artists and authors in 1924 is entered into the public domain as of January 1, 2020.
January 2, 2020, 4:04pm
George Gershwin
George Gershwin, one of the artists whose work is now entered into the public domain.

If you've been anxiously waiting to use "Rhapsody in Blue" or black-and-white Harold Lloyd films, these—and thousands more works—are now free to use, share, and repurpose in the public domain.

These works would have gone into the public domain in 2000, after the 75-year term was up, but the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act put a 20-year freeze on releasing copyrights.

The celebration of Public Domain Day as an unofficial holiday is credited to Canadian public domain activist Wallace McLean, who created it with support from lawyer and political activist Lawrence Lessig. "You are free to make use of this heritage in any way you want, by publishing, digitizing, compiling, translating, adapting, dramatizing, or treating the material in any other way," McLean wrote in a 2004 email, archived here. "It's yours to enjoy and share with whomever, whenever, in whatever way you want."

Last year's domain dump was a big one, as it was the first after that 20-year freeze. But this year also includes some gems, which you can access the same way as years past, through the hard work of archivists at Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and HathiTrust.

A full list of expired copyrights from 1924 and earlier is available here. It's important to note that only the musical compositions and originals are released; remakes and recordings might still be under copyright. Here are a few highlights of Public Domain Day 2020:

Music

"Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin

"Lazy" by Irving Berlin

"Jealous Hearted Blues" by Cora “Lovie” Austin

“Nobody’s Sweetheart,” music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman

Film

Peter Pan (the first film adaptation of the book by James Matthew Barrie)

Buster Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. and The Navigator by

Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy and Hot Water

Lon Chaney's He Who Gets Slapped

The 1924 film adaptation of Dante’s Inferno

Books

The Dream by H. G. Wells

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne

Old New York novellas by Edith Wharton

Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

Update: A previous version of this article cited copyright release as contingent on creators' date of death. This version corrects the error.