Free from copyright restrictions, the public can now enjoy unlimited access to creative works from 1926 including A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, classic silent films with Buster Keaton, and jazz standards by Jelly Roll Morton.
A virtual party hosted by the Internet Archive, SPARC and others January 20 celebrated the availability of the newly released material. This year’s festivities also welcomed nearly 400,000 sound recordings from the pre-1923 era into the public domain as a result of the Music Modernization Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
[Listen to a recording of the event by clicking here.]
“What a big win for our country, especially for libraries and archives that preserve our cultural history,” said U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) of the newest crop of creative work entering the public domain, including the early sound recordings. “It’s also a big win for our artists, who can now freely use these classic recordings and transform them into new works.”
Wyden has supported groups that advocate for balanced copyright laws that support public access. In the recent federal legislation addressing compensation in the music industry, he pushed back against a provision that would have locked up older recordings for almost 150 years from their publication.
“These restrictions defied common sense, and they would have been a major disadvantage for historians, academics and American cultural heritage,” said Wyden, who helped secure a better deal that allowed sound recordings to be public property each year. “The Music Modernization Act was not our first rodeo, and I’m certain it is not going to be our last. I look forward to working with all of you closely in the days ahead, continuing the fight for balanced IP laws that work for all Americans.”
Meredith Rose, senior policy counsel with Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., said the new federal legislation is a “huge game changer” for libraries. For the first time, sound recordings before 1972 can be made available for noncommercial and educational uses with no restrictions or threat of statutory damages.
Also speaking at the event was Jennifer Jenkins of Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. She shared a video highlighting the range of work becoming open this year from Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises to the film “For Heaven’s Sake” with Harold Lloyd and poetry by Langston Hughes.
“Public domain enables both creativity and access to preservation,” Jenkins said, noting some classic works have been lost to history. “For those that have survived, it’s time to discover or rediscover and breathe new life into them.”
A musical part of the program featured performances by Citizen DJ and Roochie Toochie and the Ragtime Shepard Kings. There was also an interview with Colin Hancock, a musician and historian who has built his career playing early jazz, blues and ragtime music and using period technology to record it.
Professor Jason Luther of Rowan University explained how his students research 78rpm records from the early 20th century through the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project to create podcasts. Two of his students shared their excitement in being able to access these vintage recordings and make connections to artists’ work of today. (Read more about Luther’s project in this blog post .)
The work of writers, musicians, filmmakers, scientists, painters should be consumed, built upon and enjoyed, said Catherine Stihler, chief executive officer of Creative Commons: “I see the public domain as a gift. A package of time, wrapped in excitement of discovery and revitalization that sheds light on the past and enriches the present.”
The Public Domain Day event was organized by the Internet Archive and co-sponsored by SPARC, Creative Commons, Library Futures, Authors Alliance, the Bioheritage Diversity Library, Public Knowledge, ARSC, the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, and the Music Library Association.
[Cross-posted blog with Internet Archive]