On January 1, 2022, thousands of creative works published in 1926 entered the public domain following the expiration of the 95-year period of protections established by U.S. copyright law. They are now available for all Americans to freely reuse, adapt, display, perform, or screen without paying royalties or seeking permission from the rights-holder(s). Written works joining the public domain this year include A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-PoohThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston’s Color Struck and The Land by Vita Sackville-West, as well as many others—1,926 more of which are now available for full-text viewing and download from HathiTrust. Classic silent films like The General starring Buster Keaton and Faust directed by F. W. Murnau have likewise become available. 

Additionally, due to the passage of the Music Modernization Act in 2018, copyright protections will expire for an estimated 400,000 sound recordings published prior to 1923. 60,000 of these have been digitally reformatted by the University of California, Santa Barbara Library and are now available for download via the Discography of American Historical Recordings database; an additional 10,000 items have joined the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox

Unfortunately, much of humanity’s cultural heritage does not survive to see the public domain. During the 95-100 years when a work’s distribution is controlled by copyright law in the United States, print copies dwindle, digital licensing agreements expire, and many works are consigned to obscurity. For never-published materials, the period is even longer and the likelihood of loss much higher.  

To ensure that the scholarly and creative works of Illinois State University affiliates continue to circulate and exert influence in their disciplines online, Milner Library recommends that creators engage in personal digital archiving and/or submit their works to an institutional repository such as ISU ReD. The repository will perform digital preservation activities to safeguard digital files far into the future, while providing long-term storage and access to contributors’ digital assets in a user-friendly system designed to make their materials easily discoverable by search engines such as Google. Scholarly Communications Librarian Anne Shelley is happy to assist members of the ISU community with depositing their publications, research data, and other digital assets in ISU ReD. Those wishing to do so should email ISUReD@IllinoisState.edu or consult the ISU ReD FAQ for more information. 

More from the Scholarly Communication Team at Milner Library