January 1, 2019 marks a significant date in US copyright law. On this “Public Domain Day 2019” thousands of works from 1923 previously protected under US copyright laws became public domain. Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain reviews “Public Domain Day 2019” and has similar archives going back to 2010.
You may use this bonanza of PD works without first obtaining permission. These works include books, songs, films, and other artistic works. Appropriate attribution is still required, of course.
A word of caution is required, however. More recent works may include content that has lapsed into public domain along with content that remains under copyright protection. Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” is a good example.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.”
It was first published in 1923. However, if you go on Amazon.com, you will see a book with the same title as the poem. The Amazon.com listing posts a copyright date of 2001 claimed by Cahners Business Information, Inc. The copyright page in the book indicates that the illustrations are by Susan Jeffers from 1978 with a copyright renewal in 2001. Her illustrations still have copyright protection. Frost’s words do not. A search on the title of the poem on the US Copyright Office website shows 37 entries that claim copyright for some content associated with the title. Most are for music, but two are for the 1978 and 2001 works with Susan Jeffers illustrations. The type of work cited is visual material. The basis for the copyright claims are “new matter:color & revisions to ill., and afterword.”
An annual bonanza of PD works is just beginning. On January 1, 2020 a similar release of items from 1924 that are still protected under US copyright laws will go into the public domain. And this process continues each January 1st for the next 52 years.
The Hathi Trust Digital Library has 53,409 items listed in its collection of works from 1923.