Happy Public Domain Day!

Every new year opens new doors, but it also opens old ones. On January 1, we celebrated another Public Domain Day, marking the expiration of another year of copyrights, when affected works enter the public domain and become widely available for a range of uses, including online access. And so, every Public Domain Day gives us a set of new material that is freely available to anyone, 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 effects of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998, which had the net result of freezing the movement 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 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. Due to the waning effects of CTEA, 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.

The books now available for scholarship and enjoyment range from Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain to The Fascist Movement in Italian Life by Pietro Gorgolini (with a preface by S. E. Benito Mussolini) to the first two volumes of The Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Monthly. Of these books, Cornell’s portion numbers almost 1,500. Eclectic readers will be pleased to know that our books include an eight-volume set of Commentaries on the Law of Contracts by William F. Elliott, Standardization of Telephone Rates by C. A. Wright and D. B. Judd, and Poems of Nature and Romance, 1794–1807, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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 New Year to everyone and Happy Public Domain Day to all!

Michelle Paolillo
Lead, Digital Curation Services
HathiTrust Coordinator
Cornell University Library

Views expressed are the opinions of the author and do not represent endorsement by Cornell University.