Copyright Law Kept These Famous Works From Entering the Public Domain This Year

Here is a list of books, movies, music & scientific research that would have entered the public domain today had the 1978 copyright law not been passed

Image: Susan von Struensee

In 1978, copyright law changed in the United States. Before then, a work could stay under copyright for 56 years after publication. But the new law extended that period to 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and 95 years after publication if the work was "made for hire" (usually, made by employee for an employer). Many people have bemoaned the 1978 law: critics say it's stifling, far too expansive, and a roadblock to everything from culture to scientific research.

Every year, advocates for shortening copyright terms consider what an alternate universe in which the 1978 law had not passed would look like. Here, for instance, is a list of books, movies, music and even scientific research that once would have entered the public domain this January, compiled by Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

Duke University explains what that while most of these works aren’t going to disappear—they are famous, after all—there are tons more that might:

Unlike the famous works highlighted here, the vast majority of works from 1957 do not retain commercial value, but they are presumably off limits to users who do not want to risk a copyright lawsuit. This means that no one is benefiting from continued copyright, while the works remain both commercially unavailable and culturally off limits. 

More from

The Hunt for a New, Copyright-Free Happy Birthday Song
Copyright Confection: The Distinctive Topography of the Hershey Bar

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.