How-To Geek

Public Domain Day: Reflections on Copyright and the Importance of Public Domain

The first of the year is Public Domain Day, a day intended to call attention to copyright issues and the public domain. At the Center for the Study of the Public Domain they have an interesting (and sobering) review of works that won’t enter the public domain this year.

Copyright laws, in their original incarnation, were intended to briefly protect intellectual property long enough for the original author to profit from the work and sustain him or herself to make more works. As time progressed copyright laws were revised and the copyright window was extended (often jokingly called the Disney Effect as major revisions happen around the time Mickey Mouse is about to enter the public domain).

So what does this mean to you? It means that entire works of culture: movies, music, television shows, and even software and other digital creations, are effectively removed from the cultural pool. They’re locked up in corporate vaults or outright orphaned with no way of being put back into circulation. Here are some of the works that would have entered the public domain this year:

Check out the full article at the link below for a thoughtful look at copyright law and what it means when works are bound up instead of freed to the public sphere.

What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2011? [Center for the Study of Public Domain via O’Reilly Radar]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/3/11

Comments (4)

  1. Khai

    actually under UK law, Tolkien’s work does not enter the public domain until 2043.
    (authors death plus 70 years, 1988)

  2. Khai

    sorry for the double post. but since Tolkien’s work falls under UK copyright, not US, I question the article linked. Under the 1988 Copyright Act, the works are copyrighted until 2043 as I noted, and even under the previous 1911 Act, until 2023.

  3. Chronno S. Trigger


    Don’t know about UK copyright, but what would Tolkien need with copyright until 2023 (let alone another ten years)? I know his son doesn’t need it, he’s an author himself. But that’s what Public Domain Day is for, to point out these inconsistencies.

  4. Ian

    Hello Admin of HowToGeek

    I just want to ask if this breaks the copyright policy of HowToGeek?

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