Hundreds of Copyrighted Works Finally Enter the Public Domain After 95 Years

On January 1, 2019, there was even more to celebrate than the start of a new year. This day saw many published works enter the US public domain for the first time. Literature, music, movies, and more that were created in 1923 are now available for anyone to republish and use in other projects—without asking permission or paying the previous rights holders. Having a creative work in the public domain offers incredible freedom, as it allows us to do things like record new versions of music or recreate artwork. Disney did this, for instance, when it animated public domain fairy tales.

This year’s Public Domain Day on January 1 is a significant one, as it hasn’t happened for over 20 years. The reason is that when works from 1923 were about to enter the public domain in 1999 (a 75-year term), Congress decided to “hit a two-decade pause button” and push the copyright length another 20 years. Called the Copyright Term Extension Act, works published between 1923 and 1977 have 95 years until they enter the domain. Because the pause is over, we’ll now have this day every year, with 1924 works being released in 2020, 1925 in 2021, and so on. Even Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie will be part of the public domain in 2024.

Here’s a partial list of works entering the public domain, and you can see a more detailed list from the Center for the Study of Public Domain at Duke Law School.

January 1, 2019 is Public Domain Day. Works published in 1923 are now released of their copyright, meaning anyone can republish or recreate them for free. Here’s some of what you can expect.

Public Domain Day


See a full list of 1923 films.

  • The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecil B. DeMille
  • The Pilgrim, directed by Charlie Chaplin
  • Safety Last!, directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, which features an iconic silent film special effect
  • Our Hospitality, directed by Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone
  • Scaramouche, directed by Rex Ingram
  • Cartoons including Felix the Cat




See a full list of popular music published in 1923.

  • “Who’s Sorry Now?”
  • “That Old Gang of Mine”
  • “Yes! We Have No Bananas”
  • “Tin Roof Blues”
  • “King Porter Stomp”


Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (Photo: Max Halberstadt [Public domain])


These are the 200 most popular books of 1923.

  • The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud
  • Towards a New Architecture by Le Corbusier
  • The Murder on the Links and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” by Virginia Woolf
  • Bambi by Felix Salten and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, which was the source material for the Disney animated film
  • Short stories by iconic authors including Virginia Woolf, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ernest Hemingway


Public Domain Day

“On White II” by Wassily Kandinski



Here are significant artworks created in 1923.

  • Bird in Space by Constantin Brâncuși
  • Odalisque With Raised Arms by Henri Matisse
  • The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp
  • Dolphins (woodcut) by M. C. Escher
  • On White II by Wassily Kandinsky
  • The Pipes of Pan and Paulo on a Donkey by Pablo Picasso


h/t: [Open Culture]

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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