Happy Public Domain Day! (except you, United States)

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Happy Public Domain Day! Today’s the day when people around the globe cheer for creative works that are now eligible to be freely used for any purpose… except in the United States.

steuxpery_lepetitprinceJanuary 1st marks the expiration of copyright protection terms for creative works, usually the creator’s death plus a certain number of years, thus allowing their work to enter the public domain.

According to the Public Domain Review’s Class of 2015, Canada welcomes the works of famed James Bond writer, Ian Fleming and Europe welcomes the works of poet Edith Sitwell and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, best known for The Little Prince.

Once_future_king_coverDue to changes to copyright laws that took effect in 1978, the United States doesn’t see any works enter the public domain in 2015. No works have entered since the late 1970s and none are expected until 2019. Although we could be enjoying Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, or T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, we won’t be.

What’s so important about the public domain anyway? Jennifer Jenkins, Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Public Domain, wrote a piece for Huffington Post that described the key points: price, creativity and free speech, and access.

  • Braille or audio book formats – If a book is in the public domain, it can be made into alternative formats, like large print, braille or audio with no permission needed.
  • Referencing older works in new works – Creatives in 2015 need to stick with works in the public domain if they want to re-use source material or else they could become embroiled in copyright infringement.
  • Free access – The distribution of knowledge is priceless. Public domain extends the reach of these works to those who may not be able to afford them.

Although copyright laws are important to help protect creator rights, balance is needed to foster new ideas and spread creativity. To help, you can support groups such as Communia and Creative Commons, which are leading the charge for reform to ensure that the works in the public domain will continue to grow.

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About Author

Brenda works in tech by day and as a geek, maker, STEM community builder by night. She uses her super hero powers for the good of all kind.

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