As we prepare to ring in a new year, the Penn Libraries wants revelers to realize that they have one more reason to celebrate. On January 1st, 2019, all original creative works published in 1923 will enter the Public Domain. This is especially momentous because it is the first time in 20 years that new works will enter the Public Domain in the United States.

In anticipation of this momentous occasion, the Penn Libraries, utilizing the talent of the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Imaging, has launched a mass digitization effort to digitize the many books in its collection that were published in 1923. These books will be shared with the world through Penn Libraries’ partnership in HathiTrust, a digital preservation repository of more than 10 million digitized volumes, collaboratively owned by hundreds of academic and research institutions. On January 1st, thanks to the collective efforts of libraries around the world, 50,000 volumes published in 1923 will join the 3 million others currently available through HathiTrust. Among these are great literary classics, such as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud, and Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse. “We are thrilled to be taking a leadership role and use our expert staff and technology to share literary classics with the world,” says H. Carton Rogers Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, Constantia Constantinou.

Why has it taken so long for these works to enter the United States’ Public Domain? According to Assistant University Librarian for Collections & Liaison Services, Brigitte Burris, the convoluted and often frustrating history of copyright law in the United States. “In the days of the Founding Fathers, copyright lasted for just 14 years, with the option for an author to renew for an additional 14 years,” says Burris. “However, twentieth-century copyright reforms extended the copyright terms for much longer. Today, all works published are in copyright for the duration of the author’s lifetime plus 70 years, which is easy enough to wrap your mind around—until you factor in the “Mickey Mouse” term extension.” The result of a 1998 court case involving the Walt Disney Company, the “Mickey Mouse” term extension adds further complexity to the copyright landscape in the United States by deeming all works published between 1923 and 1977 a 95-year period of copyright protection after the work’s original publication date. “2019 marks the first year that works published in that period will be available in the public domain, which is certainly a victory for all who advocate for increasing access to treasured works of artistic expression,” Burris says.

Join us in celebrating Public Domain Day by exploring, downloading, and potentially repurposing the many new works available to the world on HathiTrust. Still have questions about the project? Please contact Brigitte Burris, Assistant University Librarian for Collections & Liaison Services.