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Happy Public Domain Day!

What is Public Domain Day (PDD)?  Simply put, it is an annual celebration observed on the first of every year, marking the expiration of another year of copyrights, such that the affected works enter the public domain.  When works enter the public domain, they become widely available for a range of uses, including online access, so every Public Domain Day gives us a set of new material that is freely available to the public, worldwide.

But for some decades, publications from the United States have been notably absent from works that have been freed during this annual event.  This is because of the affects of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998, which had the net result of freezing the annual moving of US publications into the public domain for about two decades.  Copyright law is detailed and the details vary from country to country and over time.  Fortunately, Kevin Smith offers a good summary on OI of how the CTEA has affected US publications in their path towards the public domain.

HathiTrust has put together a collection of items of publications from 1923, some 53,409 books in all.  About 10,000 of these were already in the public domain, but the rest were in limited view due to copyright restrictions.  However, on January 1, 2019, the remaining ~43,000 were also moved into the public domain, without the effort or requirement of any HathiTrust partner institution.  Of these books, Cornell’s portion numbers almost 1,500 books.  By depositing our books in HathiTrust, we have enjoyed the curatorial oversight that this inter-institutional repository offers, and we have shared our books as widely as allowable by law with the world. I think a lot of people stand to win on this one, so Happy Public Domain Day to all!


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