Open To All – the Public Domain

Open To All – the Public Domain

On Public Domain Day, January 1, 2023, works published in 1927 entered the public domain. What is “Public Domain” and Why 1927?  The public domain consists of all the creative work to which no exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, or waived. Therefore, anyone can legally use or reference those works without permission.

With the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, copyright was extended an additional 20 years, from 75 to 95 years. So, these works that were originally to enter the public domain in 2003 are now entering the public domain in 2023. These materials are open to all and can now be used in class, performances, and projects in any way, shape, or form, without fear of copyright infringement. Some of these titles include:


If you can’t find a book yet, check back at Project Gutenberg, as it may take a few weeks to a couple of months for them to be readily available.


Musical Scores   

Note: Only the sheet music, not the recordings of these songs are in the public domain. For example, “Irving Berlin’s words and music to Puttin’ on the Ritz were registered for copyright in 1927 and are now free for anyone to copy, perform, record, adapt, or interpolate into their own song. But the 1930 recordings by Harry Richman and by Fred Astaire are still copyrighted (Jenkins, 2023).”

Sadly, no audio recordings are entering the public domain this year. However, many entered last year (an estimated 400,000!) and you can see a list of some of those titles here.

The public domain is important as it allows enthusiasts, scholars, researchers, creators, and educators to legally share, adapt, and perform these works. Online repositories and cultural centers can preserve these works and make them available online for everyone to access. As the Director of Duke Law

School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain Jennifer Jenkins notes,  

“The public domain is also a wellspring for creativity. The whole point of copyright is to promote creativity, and the public domain plays a central role in doing so. Copyright law gives authors important rights that encourage creativity and distribution [and ideally, allow them to make a living at their craft]—this is a very good thing. But it also ensures that those rights last for a limited time, so that when they expire, works go into the public domain, where future authors [and creators] can legally build on the past—reimaging the books, making them into films, adapting songs and movies. That’s a good thing too!”

On January 2, 2024, Steamboat Willie (aka Mickey Mouse) will be entering the public domain! “The law is clear that the original version of the character enters the public domain at the same time as the work that contained it, even if subsequent installments or episodes are still under copyright” (Jenkins, 2023). This is why the character of Sherlock Holmes was already in the public domain years before The CaseBook of Sherlock Holmes entered the public domain, and new characters like Winnie-the-Pooh (public domain 2022 entry), and now the Hardy Boys are in the public domain, even if some of their stories and/or adaptions are not. 

If you’re interested in this topic and want to know more about the public domain, Assistant Librarian of Access and Technical Services Beth South highly recommends the Center for the Study of the Public Domain website. We also recommend this excellent guide about Copyright Term and the Public Domain by Cornell University Library. If you have any questions about copyright or including or adapting any work into your OER projects or publications, contact Beth South at If you need any assistance in locating material for your classes, just Ask Us! or click this button:

The content of this blog has been adapted, including adding links to materials, and summarized by Beth South from “Public Doman Day 2023” by Jennifer Jenkins, Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain and is licensed under CC BY 4.0.  

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