Dot’s Reading Room: Mickey Mouse Lovers Take Note! Jan. 2, 2024

January 5, 2024

January 1 is significant in many ways, but did you know it’s  “Public Domain Day?” This means that thousands of copyrighted works from 1928 – many of them popular favorites – have now entered the U.S. public domain and can be shared, copied, and built upon by anyone. And that goes for sound recordings, too.

As reported by the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain,  “On Jan. 1, 2024, thousands of copyrighted works from 1928 will enter the US public domain, along with sound recordings from 1923. They will be free for all to copy, share, and build upon. This year’s highlights include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence and The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht, Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman and Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It, and a trove of sound recordings from 1923. And, of course, 2024 marks the long-awaited arrival of Steamboat Willie – featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse – into the public domain. That story is so fascinating, so rich in irony, so rife with misinformation about what you will be able to do with Mickey and Minnie now that they are in the public domain that it deserved its own article, “Mickey, Disney, and the Public Domain: a 95-year Love Triangle.” Why is it a love triangle? What rights does Disney still have? How is trademark law involved?” Read all about it here.

Some highlights of English literature are now in the public domain; such gems as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf’s” Orlando”, A.A. Milne’s “House at Pooh Corner,” and Wanda Gag’s, “Millions of Cats” (the oldest American picture book still in print).

On the musical side, some Cole Porter favorites are coming into the public domain – “Let’s Fall in Love” (1928) is one of them. It is important to note: only the lyrics and sheet music, not the sound recordings, are entering the public domain. Sound recordings are covered by a separate copyright. The significance of this, as reported by the Duke Center, is “anyone can now copy, perform, record, adapt or interpolate into their own song.”  Aspiring singers and songwriters, go for it!  

The issues of copyright and works of art are complex. An advantage to songs, plays, novels, etc. coming into the public domain is that others can build upon these works to create new ones. As the Duke Center points out, “1928 was a long time ago and the vast majority of works from 1928 are not commercially available. You couldn’t buy them, or even find them, if you wanted. When they enter the public domain, anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available where we can all discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them.”

For a complete list of works coming into the public domain, here is the link to the Duke Center: https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2024/

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