Public domain logo

Last December we celebrated the first Public Domain Day in 20 years. Now they’re an annual event, like a birthday. On 1/1/2020, books, poems, music, and films published in 1924 in the US will enter the Public Domain.

Why does that matter to you or anyone else?

For one thing, it means that digital versions of those items published in 1924 or earlier can be freely shared on the Internet. This makes sites like Project Guentberg and HathiTrust possible.

You read many of these Public Domain books for a class. All of Shakespeare’s works were published well before 1924, as were Poe’s, and Darwin’s. Because their work is in the Public Domain, it can be digitized and made freely available at sites like

Because copyright has lapsed for these and similar works, anyone can post the text online, publish a print book, or record and make an audio version available, without having to obtain rights and permissions from a copyright holder. That’s why you see so many sites with these texts and so many published editions of the print versions. You still have to pay for the print version because the publisher still had to edit, set the text, design a cover, add an introduction or critique, and then manufacture and ship the print book.

If you’re interested in a celebration of Public Domain Day, consider heading down to the American University Washington College of Law for the January 30th event.