Kandinsky, Mondrian, Munch & Fleming Entered Public Domain in 2015 — But Welles, Achebe, and “Purple People Eater” Didn’t


As you faith­ful read­ers of Open Cul­ture know, we love noth­ing more than when impor­tant works of humankind fall into the pub­lic domain. Accord­ing to cur­rent Unit­ed States copy­right law, a work stays out of the pub­lic domain for 70 years after its author’s death; for cor­po­rate “works-for-hire,” 95 years after its pub­li­ca­tion. This means that, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, new things arrive in the pub­lic domain each and every year. Since we’ve just start­ed a new one, what has the pub­lic domain gained?

On Jan­u­ary 1, 2015, accord­ing to Duke Uni­ver­si­ty’s Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain, pub­lic-domain read­ers received “the writ­ings of Rachel Carl­son, Ian Flem­ing, and Flan­nery O’Con­nor” — in Cana­da, that is. As for Euro­peans, they can now freely enjoy “the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, Piet Mon­dri­an, Edvard Munch, and hun­dreds of oth­ers.” But what of the Amer­i­cans? Alas, “no pub­lished works will enter our pub­lic domain until 2019,” owing to an exten­sion of U.S. copy­right law leg­is­la­tion that pushed up retroac­tive copy­right by 95 years for any­thing cre­at­ed between 1923 and 1977 — a legal event that may, some whis­per, have had the endorse­ment of a cer­tain cor­po­ra­tion in pos­ses­sion of a cer­tain high­ly lucra­tive car­toon mouse.


For a sense of what this has cost us, the CSPD has put togeth­er a tan­ta­liz­ing list of still-vital works of lit­er­a­ture, film, music, and sci­ence that could have gone pub­lic domain this year, if not for that med­dling exten­sion. It includes Chin­ua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Simone de Beau­voir’ Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangéeGra­ham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, Nathan H. Juran’s Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, Chuck Berry’s “John­ny B. Goode,” Sheb Woo­ley’s “Pur­ple Peo­ple Eater.”

To learn more about the art that some parts of the world have new­ly wel­comed into the pub­lic domain, see also Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Pub­lic Domain Day post by Alli­son Meier. Though we could eas­i­ly feel frus­trat­ed by the rich­ness of the mate­r­i­al that Amer­i­ca has refused, in the words of Jus­tice Louis Bran­deis, to let “free as the air to com­mon use,” do remem­ber the exis­tence of a lit­tle some­thing we cit­i­zens of 2015 like to call the inter­net. The increas­ing­ly few bound­aries and lit­tle fric­tion with which it has enabled us to con­nect and com­mu­ni­cate will cer­tain­ly con­tin­ue to alle­vi­ate the cramp reg­u­la­tions like these have put in our style. So even if Amer­i­cans won’t enjoy a mean­ing­ful Pub­lic Domain Day for four years yet, I’d say we still have rea­son to cel­e­brate.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sher­lock Holmes Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain, Declares US Judge

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Reuse & Remix

A Cab­i­net of Curiosi­ties: Dis­cov­er The Pub­lic Domain Review’s New Book of Essays

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Rosa says:

    Thank you Mr. Mar­shall and OU. I shall, as always, for­ward this issue of OU out to my son — a lec­tur­er at Algo­nquin Col­lege, Ontario. I’m hop­ing that he can use OU’s bib­li­og­ra­phy to enhance his lec­tures.

  • Nahoku says:

    I have some work on Cafe­press.. and they are remov­ing Kandin­sky out from my shop. They send me this let­ter:

    The Artists Rights Soci­ety (www.arsny.com) pro­vid­ed us with notice stat­ing that the use of the art­work of “Kandin­sky” infridges upon their intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights (copy­right). I apol­o­gize for the incon­ve­nience this may have caused you.

    The Artists Rights Soci­ety now own Kandin­sky’s work. Wow.. this is fresh.

    Any thought on your part? Thanks for your arti­cle.

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