Revisiting 1923 in 2019

While some look forward to the New Year to make resolutions, say good riddance to 2018, or to clink glasses full of bubbly while wearing something sleek or sequined, I am looking forward to 2019 because a slew of landmark films, literature, songbooks, and art will enter the public domain. Such classic media will be more accessible to the people while also inspiring artists, writers, and makers as they build upon, mix, and mash-up the works from an earlier era.

Virginia Woolf’s short story, “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street,” becomes available in 2019, which formed the backbone of Woolf’s later novel-in-a-day, Mrs. Dalloway. Harlem Renaissance poet and writer Jean Toomer’s short-story collection, Cane, also joins the public domain. On Christmas Day, The New York Times’ Parul Sehgal extolled Toomer’s relevance and craftsmanship now and why we all would benefit from re-reading a book that went out of print not too long after publication before being rediscovered in the 1960s. For film-lovers, Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim also becomes available. The silent film follows the loveable tramp to a tiny Texas town, whereby the jailbreaker dons the vestments and fools the faithful, for a hot minute. All of these gems were first created or published by an authorized source in 1923.

And to give perspective on how big this treasure trove is, “it’s the first time since 1998 for a mass shift to the public domain of material protected under copyright,” wrote Glenn Fleischman in The Atlantic. After the Sonny Bono Act passed in 1998, the 20-year reprieve not only protected Disney’s interests in Mickey’s iconic appearance in the 1928 cartoon, Steamboat Willie, but also temporarily stopped the flow of works entering the public domain, but not anymore. Starting in 2019, “each New Year’s Day will unleash a full year’s worth of works published 95 years earlier,” Fleischman reported.

Ninety-five years ago the first baseball game was played in Yankee Stadium on April 18, the first domestic refrigerator was sold in Sweden, and Warner Brothers was established as a film studio. So much has happened in the almost century, which prompts us to revisit in the new year what copyright can no longer covet.