Public Domain Day 2023 Brings Well-Known IPs to the Public

There have been more than a few gasps of terror on social media recently. People are shocked to see Winnie the Pooh turned into a bloody horror flick. The same is happening with popular children’s characters like Bambi and Peter Pan. Who would let this happen? Shouldn’t the original creators or their estates object to such depictions of these popular children’s characters?

This is all possible because these pieces of intellectual property have slipped into the public domain – and it’s going to keep happening. January 1st is known as “Public Domain Day” because it’s the date each year when many old works lose their copyright protection.

In 2022, Winnie the Pooh and Bambi were among the several popular works that entered the public domain. This year, even more works will be doing the same.

Works Released on Public Domain Day 2023

In 2023, there are a handful of notable works that will now enter the public domain for free use by others who want to tell stories using those characters and story elements. The list for Public Domain Day 2023 includes:

  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – This is the final set of Sherlock Holmes stories to enter the public domain which may alter the way the character can and will be depicted moving forward.
  • Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang – Considered to be one of the most influential films of all time, the silent film used innovative visual effects to tell a story that can now be remade for modern audiences. In fact, it’s already in the works at Apple TV.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe – Stowe’s novel is considered to have changed attitudes towards African Americans in the U.S. and created more sympathy toward the slave experience.
  • Ice Cream (I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream) by Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, and Robert A. King Who doesn’t know this one? Not only do films and novels enter the public domain but so too do songs. Music, however, is often permitted to be remade even without the work being in the public domain through covers and remixes.
  • The Hardy Boys #1, #2, & #3 by Franklin W. Dixon – These vastly popular novels written by a team of writers under the single pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon are now exposed to the public domain for the first time. These are the first of many Hardy Boys stories that will soon hit the public domain, allowing for adaptations without permission to tell stories from within only the books available in the public domain.

How is This Possible?

This all boils down to how U.S copyright laws apply to works of authorship. In a previous blog, we explained that the life of copyrights depends on the creation date.

For works created BEFORE January 1, 1978, the 1909 Copyright Act says protection will last from the time of first publication for 47 years with renewability for an additional 48 years after that (for a total of 95 years). This is why these works are all becoming public domain. Each of them was published in 1927, 95 years ago.

For works created AFTER January 1, 1978, the protection lasts for 70 years after the creator’s death. If more than one individual contributed to the work then the protection lasts 70 years after the death of the longest-living contributor. Works for hire gain protection for 95 years from publication or 120 years after the creation (whichever is shorter).

This is a great lesson in the way intellectual property protections can work for you. Your work can be protected and secured long after you’re gone and likely well after your estate ever needs to be concerned about the recreation of those works. Protecting your work also allows you to get paid in commission and other fees for those who want to use your work while the protection remains in place. At McDermott IP Law, we help clients protect their innovation today and into the future. Contact our team when you need help protecting what you’ve created.

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