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The Lifecycle of Copyright: 1925 Works Enter the Public Domain

LC Copyright Blog: “On January 1, a new raft of creative works of expression entered the public domain in the United States. The term of copyright has ended for works published or registered in 1925, which now join pre-1924 works already in the public domain and available for use by everyone without restrictions. Expiration of copyright term is a critical phase in the lifecycle of copyright. Under the U.S. Constitution, the purpose of copyright is “to promote the progress of science.” Article I, section 8, clause 8, outlines a two-part structure for Congress to follow when enacting copyright laws so that they will further that goal. Specifically, Congress may secure to authors “the exclusive right to their respective writings.” Granting exclusive rights to authors acts as an incentive to writers, artists, composers, and others in creative fields and thus increases the universe of human knowledge and culture. Additionally, the Constitution specifies that the protection shall be “for limited times.” This ensures that those works will become part of the storehouse of human creation and can serve as source material for further creation. The critical role of the public domain in human culture is easily illustrated by the fact that so many new works are based on public domain works, such as the works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, Louisa May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s why people keep making versions of the Robin Hood and King Arthur stories. And when public domain works spark new and original expression, the author of the new material enjoys copyright protection. But note that the copyright protection only covers the new contributions, not the underlying public domain work.

The year 2021 brings a treasure trove of 1925 works into the public domain. Indeed, the BBC has asked whether 1925 might have been “The Greatest Year for Books Ever?” Following are some of the highlights from 1925. There are also innumerable other works from 1925 worth discovering—such as Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams. The year 1925 was also a big year for landmark musical compositions, with entries from composers such as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, George and Ira Gershwin, Vincent Youmans, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, and Gertrude “Ma” Rainey. We now have a great opportunity to rediscover the cultural milestones of 1925 and look forward to new adaptations.

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