Last year, we established the tradition of celebrating Public Domain Name Day (January 1) by publishing an article highlighting some of the most interesting authors whose works have entered in the public domain. This January is not an exception and we have prepared a list of the most interesting authors and their works that have entered into public domain in all jurisdictions where the economic component of copyright is exhausted on January 1 of the year following the 70th anniversary of the year in which the author has died.
As indicated in our article last year, there are significant differences between the U.S. and Europe in respect to the calculation of entering into the public domain. On a global scale, these differences can be even greater, and for that reason, one should always carefully consider the expiration of copyright in each particular territory as the same work will have different expiration dates in different jurisdictions.
Last year, the U.S. exited from a 20-year long gap (between 1998 and 2019) during which no works have entered into public domain. This year has brought us some very interesting titles for which the copyright is now exhausted in the U.S., as these works were originally published in 1924 (expiration of copyright in these cases is calculated from the year of first publication of the work and it is not related to year of author’s death). Among many others, such works include The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin and The City Without Jews by Austrian filmmaker Hans Karl Breslauer.
To the contrary, copyright duration in the majority of European countries is based on the date of death of an author regardless of the date of the first publication of the particular work (with some exceptions regarding the works of unknown authors and works published under a pseudonym). For that reason, all the works of one author enter in the public domain at the same time. In that sense, the majority of European jurisdictions recognize the system of copyright protection that lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years following the death of the author (or 70 years following the death of the last surviving co-author in the event of co-authorship). In addition, in a number of these countries the date of a work entering into the public domain is calculated from the first day of the year following the year in which the 70th anniversary of the author’s death occurred.
Having in mind this method for calculating copyright duration, the works which entered into the public domain on January 1, 2020 are those created by authors who died in 1949. Among many others, the works of the following authors are now in the public domain:
Victor Fleming American film director, best known for the movies Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind (for which he won an Academy Award for best director), Treasure Island, Joan of Arc and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It should be borne in mind when it comes to film directors that not necessarily all the films directed by the same director will enter into the public domain at the same time due to issues related to legal treatment of co-authorship (the work enters in the public domain on the year following the 70th anniversary of the year in which the last surviving co-author has died).
Margaret Mitchell American writer, best known for her 1936’s novel Gone with the Wind. It seems that this year has brought economic rights over Gone with the Wind to a conclusion in various formats.
Robert Ripley American cartoonist, establisher of the franchise “Ripley's Believe It or Not!”, originally a newspaper panel series (illustrated by Ripley himself) which featured odd facts from around the world.
Richard Strauss German composer known for his famous pieces such as “Also sprach Zarathustra,” “Salome,” “Violin Concerto in D Minor” and “Metamorphosen”.
Maurice Maeterlinck Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist that was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. His most famous works include Intruder, The Blind, Pelléas et Mélisande, Interior and The Blue Bird.
Sam Wood American film director, best known for the movies A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Kings Row. It is interesting that Wood was briefly a director of Gone with the Wind, as he was replacing Victor Fleming on the set for twenty-four days, due to Fleming’s exhaustion.
Gustav Radbruch German lawyer and jurist. One of the most influential legal philosophers of the 20th century. His notable works include, inter alia, a short paper from 1945 “Five Minutes of Legal Philosophy” (Fünf Minuten Rechtsphilosophie) in which he determined the law as the will to justice. Radbruch is probably best known for “Radbruh Formula”, a legal concept of overcoming the conflict between the law and justice (The positive law, secured by legislation and power, takes precedence even when its content is unjust and fails to benefit the people, unless the conflict between statute and justice reaches such an intolerable degree that the statute, as ‘flawed law’, must yield to justice).
Sidney Olcott Canadian film director, best known for the first film adaptation of Ben Hur from 1907.
Sigrid Undset Norwegian writer, Nobel laureates in literature in 1928, best known for the literal trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter that describes a life in medieval Norway.
José Clemente Orozco Mexican caricaturist and painter, specialized in political murals that established the Mexican Mural Renaissance together with murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others.
Viktor Alexandrovich Uspensky Russian and Soviet musicologist and composer, one of the most prominent national folklorists (ethnomusicologists).
Oton Zupanic Slovene poet and writer. Best known for the book of children's poetry Ciciban, published in 1915.
Klaus Mann German-American writer, son of famous German writer Thomas Mann. Klaus Mann is best known for his novel Mephisto from 1936.
As we can see from the above list of selected authors, this year has brought us freedom to use works of Nobel Prize laureates, famous composers, writers and film directors, just to name a few. But above all, this Public Domain Name Day has been marked by the expiration of copyright protection over Gone with the Wind, as 3 of the authors involved in the creation of both the novel and the film adaptation of the novel died in 1949. However, those rights will not expire in Mitchell’s, Fleming’s and Wood’s home U.S. until 2031 for the novel and until 2034 for the movie. When that happens, we will make sure to be the first to inform you in our yearly article on copyright expiration.