What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2024: Enjoy Classic Works by Virginia Woolf, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, D. H. Lawrence, Bertolt Brecht & More

More than thir­ty years after it was first pri­vate­ly pub­lished in 1928, Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover became the sub­ject of the most famous obscen­i­ty tri­al in Eng­lish his­to­ry. Though the ulti­mate deci­sion of R v Pen­guin Books Ltd in favor of the pub­lish­er opened a cul­tur­al flood­gate in that coun­try, the nov­el was also sub­ject to bans else­where, includ­ing the Unit­ed States and Japan. Near­ly a cen­tu­ry after D. H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover — and a world apart as regards atti­tudes about pub­lic moral­i­ty — it can be some­what dif­fi­cult to under­stand what all the fuss was about. But now that the book has entered the pub­lic domain in the Unit­ed States, it could poten­tial­ly be made artis­ti­cal­ly and social­ly dan­ger­ous again.

The same could be said of a num­ber of oth­er notable works of lit­er­a­ture, from Vir­ginia Woolf’s sex-switch­ing satire Orlan­do to Bertolt Brecht’s piece of rev­o­lu­tion­ary the­ater Die Dreigroschenop­er (known in trans­la­tion as The Three­pen­ny Opera) to a cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non-spawn­ing sto­ry like J. M. Bar­rie’s Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Would­n’t Grow Up.

These and oth­ers are named on this year’s Pub­lic Domain Day post by Jen­nifer Jenk­ins, direc­tor of the Duke Cen­ter for the Study of the Pub­lic Domain. If not for mul­ti­ple exten­sions of copy­right law, she notes, all of them would have orig­i­nal­ly gone pub­lic domain in 1984, and we would now have almost four decades’ worth of addi­tion­al cre­ations rein­ter­pret­ing, re-imag­in­ing, and re-using them. Still, “bet­ter late than nev­er!”

At this point in his­to­ry, the arti­facts freed for any­one’s use aren’t just writ­ten works, but also films, musi­cal com­po­si­tions, and even actu­al sound record­ings. These include clas­sic Dis­ney car­toons Steam­boat Willie and Plane Crazy, which intro­duced the world to a cer­tain Mick­ey Mouse; live-action movies from major film­mak­ers, like Char­lie Chap­lin’s The Cir­cus and Carl Theodor Drey­er’s The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc; and such songs with broad cul­tur­al foot­prints as “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” “When You’re Smil­ing,” and “Mack the Knife” — or rather “Die Mori­tat von Mack­ie Mess­er,” in the orig­i­nal Ger­man from Die Dreigroschenop­er. Alas, those of us who want to do our own thing with Bob­by Dar­in’s ver­sion will have to wait until Feb­ru­ary of 2067.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ear­ly Ver­sion of Mick­ey Mouse Enters the Pub­lic Domain on Jan­u­ary 1, 2024

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2023: Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis, Vir­ginia Woolf’s To the Light­house, Franz Kafka’s Ameri­ka & More

The Dis­ney Car­toon That Intro­duced Mick­ey Mouse & Ani­ma­tion with Sound (1928)

John Waters Reads Steamy Scene from Lady Chatterley’s Lover for Banned Books Week (NSFW)

The British Library Dig­i­tizes Its Col­lec­tion of Obscene Books (1658–1940)

Bertolt Brecht Sings ‘Mack the Knife’ From The Three­pen­ny Opera (1929)

Watch Online: The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Drey­er (1928)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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