The start of a new year means the end of copyright protection for a variety of books, songs, and movies – and a slew of free titles for pop culture fans. For 2021, it will be works by novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, actor Buster Keaton, composer Irving Berlin and mystery master Agatha Christie.
These are some of the most famous names that will join the likes of Shakespeare and Beethoven in the public domain. Others include jazz musicians and Renaissance poets from Harlem, and literary figures like Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams.
All newly free works were first published in 1925. You can find a more complete list on the website of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, a Duke University project that tracks copyright expirations. Meanwhile, sites like Gutenberg Project offer a way to download electronic versions of books like The Great Gatsby which, as of January 1, are free forever.
The new status of these works is significant because 2021 will mark the second year of reconstitution of the public domain after a two-decade drought when no new work has become available.
The recent shortage of new public domain works is due to Congress’ decision in 1998 to extend copyright protection from age 75 to age 95. Critics of the change pointed out that it did little to incentivize the creation of new works – the nominal goal of copyright – and that it appeared to be a sop for Disney, which sought to resist. the transfer of intellectual property on first mickey mouse movies.
This year’s slate is also particularly important due to the pandemic. The temporary closure of many libraries, coupled with a push by the publishing industry to impose new limits on eBook lending, has made it more difficult for many in the country to access books. A new infusion of public domain works will help mitigate this.
And in 2022, copyright will expire on a range of other notable works, including Winnie the Pooh and The sun is also rising.