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  • Writer's pictureDiann Schindler, Ph.D.

Public Domain Day: 1 January

What is Public Domain Day?

Public Domain Day is an observance of when copyrights expire and works enter into the public domain. This legal transition of copyright works into the public domain usually happens every year on 1 January based on the individual copyright laws of each country.

Let's talk books!

A public-domain book is (1) a book with no copyright, (2) a book that was created without a license, or (3) a book where its copyrights expired or have been forfeited.

What does this mean for writers?

Go ahead, my fellow writers, copy the language directly without having to cite the source. When something is public domain, you can quote from and use the language in whatever way you choose. Sell your own copies: You can even take the entire public domain book, make copies and sell it as is, no questions asked. Interesting, eh?

How does copyright and public domain work?

In most countries the term of protection of copyright expires on the first day of January, 70 years after the death of the latest living author. The longest copyright term is in Mexico, which has life plus 100 years for all deaths since July 1928.

A notable exception is the United States, where every book and tale published before 1929 is in the public domain; US copyrights last for 95 years for books originally published between 1929 and 1978 if the copyright was properly registered and maintained.

For example: the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Machado de Assis, Olavo Bilac and Edgar Allan Poe are in the public domain worldwide as they all died over 100 years ago.

And, ebooks: Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive and Wikisource make tens of thousands of public domain books available for free online as ebooks.

In 2019, everything first published in the United States in 1923 entered the public domain. Same in 2021, everything published in 1925 (considered the greatest year for books) entered the public domain, including "The Great Gatsby".

As for this year, in the United States, books published in 1928 will enter the public domain. Here are just a few:


J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (the original play)

Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

Agatha Christie, The Mystery of the Blue Train

W.E.B. Du Bois, Dark Princess

Robert Frost, West-Running Brook

Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point

Nella Larsen, Quicksand

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (the original, unexpurgated version)

A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (in the original German)

Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall

Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography

W.B. Yeats, The Tower

Want to access public domain books prior to this year?

Click on this LINK to Louisiana's Delgado Community College Libraries.

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