Public Domain Day rings in the New Year with a treasure trove of creative freedom

Thousands of books, movies, and songs have been released from the shackles of copyright on January 1.

Published : Jan 01, 2024 23:03 IST - 2 MINS READ

A still from Steamboat Willie, a 1928 Disney film.

A still from Steamboat Willie, a 1928 Disney film.

In a global celebration of creative freedom, thousands of books, movies, and songs have officially entered the public domain on Public Domain Day, January 1. This yearly event marks the expiration of copyright protection, making these cultural works accessible to the public for reinterpretation, distribution, and reworking.

This year’s Public Domain Day is particularly noteworthy in the United States, where iconic works, including the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, featuring early versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, have become public domain after the expiration of Disney’s copyright. Additionally, sound recordings from 1923, such as Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues” and Ma Rainey’s “Southern Blues”, have joined the public domain.

The Center for the Study of the Public Domain highlights significant literary works that have become copyright-free in the US, including D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. However, these works were already in the public domain in India due to the country’s copyright policy, which frees an author’s work 60 years after their passing.

Also Read | Ambedkar, on a device near you

Indian public domain

Public Domain Day is doubly special in India as hundreds of Hollywood and Indian films have entered the public domain, including classics from Hindi and Tamil cinema. In Hindi cinema, films like Mere Mehboob, Taj Mahal, and Gumrah now offer new opportunities for creative exploration. In Tamil cinema, titles like Annai Illam, Anandha Jothi, and Nenjam Marappathillai have also joined the public domain.

The 60-year rule, applicable to films in India, has opened up possibilities for filmmakers, scholars, and enthusiasts to engage with and build upon these cinematic treasures.

The importance of the public domain is emphasised by the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, pointing out its role in enabling various creative projects. The public domain allows for the collection, restoration, and building upon cultural heritage, empowering millions to contribute to the preservation and evolution of creative works.

Despite the celebrations, concerns linger about the shrinking public domain, especially as digital technology provides tools to engage with and build upon cultural heritage. The call for balanced copyright policies that consider the evolving digital landscape is resonating worldwide as the public domain remains a crucial space for creative exploration and innovation.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment