Public Domain Day

What's so special about 2019? For the first time in over twenty years, new work will be entering the public domain: books, movies, music, and art from 1923.

Work in the public domain can be freely read, adapted, and reused in whatever manner you can dream up, from YouTube videos to printed scarves to playing card backs. As Glenn Fleishman from Smithsonian Magazine put it: "We have never seen such a mass entry into the public domain in the digital age." Visit the UO Libraries Research Guides to locate more images, data, newspapers, and primary sources you can use and reuse in your work.

Check out staff picks and highlights from UO Libraries' collections below.

Why are UO Libraries celebrating Public Domain Day?

Copyright is at the core of almost everything that libraries and librarians do. Library workers purchase over $4 billion in copyrighted materials annually, loan copyrighted material to the public, rely on fair use to facilitate public access to information, provide materials accessible to those with special needs, and preserve culturally and commercially valuable information. Libraries are leaders in trying to maintain a balance of power between copyright holders and users." (from "Copyright")

– American Library Association
Tom_Bell's_graph_showing_extension_of_U.S._copyright_term_over_time.svg (1).png

In the United States, the Copyright Clause in the Constitution gives Congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." That limited time currently extends for the life of an author plus 70 years after their death, but for works created before 1978, this can get a bit messy. For a clear explanation of the chart to the right, creator Tom Bell goes into further detail on his website. A robust series of exceptions to copyright exist in the form of fair use, which allow educators, artists, parodists, reporters, and others to use copyrighted materials in a variety of ways to create new knowledge, art, and access. Check out the Association of Research Library's Fair Use Fundamentals infographic for more information.

But the primary goal of copyright is to promote the progress of science and useful Arts by contributing to what is known as the public domain, a body of work free of intellectual property rights that can be used in any manner. Images, text, video, sound recordings, code, and data may be in the public domain and may either pass into the public domain after copyright expiry, after copyright has been forfeited, after copyright has been waived, or may never have been eligible for copyright.

How has the media been covering Public Domain Day?

This year's special event has led to a flurry of interest in Public Domain Day, which has been covered quite thoroughly in the last nine years by the Duke Law School's Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

The New York Times covered New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out on Saturday, December 29, 2018.

The Smithsonian Magazine wrote a short piece for their January 2019 issue: For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter the Public Domain.