Copyrighted Classic Works Enter Public Domain: Enjoy!

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Start of 2020 Ushers Thousands of Once-Copyrighted Works Into the Public Domain

by Katherine J. Wu/Smithsonianmag.com

For the second year in a row, the internet has hit serious digital paydirt in the arena of cultural catch-up. As the decade changed over on January 1, thousands of once-copyrighted works from 1924 entered the public domain. Ninety-five years after their creation, these classics are finally free to use, remix and build upon without permission or payment. (See the full list here.)

Among the liberated are musical compositions like George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” films like Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. and books like E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Now, anyone—from historians to recording artists to iPhone-savvy middle schoolers—can make these works and more their own with annotations, additions and modifications. They can even profit from them, if they so choose.

Above and beyond rehashing old content, the lifting of copyright protections intends to inspire a new generation—not to dwell in the past, but to legally draw from and build upon it, explains Balfour Smith, program coordinator of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, in a blog post.

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