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Copyrighted works that have been around for a number of years will eventually enter the public domain. This typically happens on the first day of the subsequent year and is called Public Domain Day. And Public Domain Day is the time to show appreciation for and celebrate the various works of literature and music that become free to access for the public.

History of Public Domain Day

While the rules are different in each country regarding the length of time, in many countries (like the United States and Europe), the time frame is 70 years after the original artist’s death, but some works may last for up to 100 years before entering into public domain. When works enter into public domain, they can legally be shared without needing to pay a fee or even ask permission.

The first reference to Public Domain Day entered into the picture in the early 2000s, around 2004, and it has been growing in popularity ever since. This Public Domain Day is the time to explore and see which pieces of creativity are now more accessible than ever!

How to Celebrate Public Domain Day

Have fun learning more and celebrating the fun and freedom of being able to share more music, art and literature on Public Domain Day! Check out some of these ideas for celebrating:

  • Happy Birthday. The most recognized song in the English language has entered into public domain after first appearing in print in 1912. Although it was disputed for a few years, it was eventually ruled by a federal judge in 2015 that the famous song should legally be released to the public.
  • It Had to Be You. Published in 1924, this song has been recorded by so many famous singers including Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day and Harrick Connick, Jr. and is now in public domain after the death of its authors, Isham Edgar Jones and Gus Kahn.
  • Camptown Races. Early pieces of American folk music like this one (and Oh Susanna!) are written by Stephen Foster who is often considered to be the father of American music.
  • Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis. Written by Kerry Mills and Andrew Sterling, this famous song hails from the early 20th century and was particularly popular in 1904 when the World’s Fair was located in St. Louis, Missouri. Eventually the song was turned into a musical film that starred Judy Garland.

Read Some Public Domain Literature

Since public domain means that books can be accessed for free, many people who believe in making literature available have digitized books and made them accessible online for free or a very small fee. And, of course, the public library is a great place to access these titles as well:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One fine piece of American literature, this masterpiece is set in 1922 tells the story of a mysterious millionaire. 
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (pseudonym Currer Bell). This classic piece of British literature shows the epic of Jane’s life and reveals her love for Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall. 
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Often known more for the 1939 film, this book is the first in the Oz series featuring Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

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