January 1st may be the start of a new calendar year, but fans of Open Access also celebrate it as “Public Domain Day,” the day when copyright expires on creative works published 95 years ago. This January 1st works created in 1924 (including select titles by Mark Twain, WEB DuBois, Pablo Neruda, and Agatha Christie, to name a few), will enter into the public domain, meaning that they can be used and repurposed by anyone without the need to obtain permission from the rights holders. This January 1st will be only the second “Public Domain Day” since 1998 when the passage of the Copyright Extension Act added 20 years onto the already existing period of copyright protection for creative works published before 1978.
It is important for every author or creator to know that copyright law automatically applies to an original creative work, as soon as it is published in a fixed medium. Creators do not have to do anything special for copyright protections to apply to their work. However, authors who want to make their material available to others to use and repurpose can choose to assign their work a Creative Commons License. These licenses exist on top of existing U.S. copyright law and allow creators to give more rights than the law typically allows the public to make use of their work. For example, a Creative Commons License would allow an instructor to more easily copy, distribute, and assign an article or book chapter to their students for a course reading, since repeated use of a work (not purchased by the student or owned by the university) can violate the fair use clause of U.S. copyright law.
Learn more about copyright, the ideas of public domain, fair use, and how you can decide what rights as an author or creator are important for you to protect, by going to the Scott Memorial Library’s Copyright Guide.