Copyright Freedom of Speech Main Topic Podcasts & Pirate News

Welcome to the Public Domain, Micky!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Public Domain Day is here! We can now enjoy works created in 1928 free of the shackles of copyright! Mickey Mouse is no longer in lockdown! Tigger can bounce freely! Peter Pan can fly forth on someone else’s imagination! Constance Chatterley and Poirot can solve crimes to the tunes of Bessie Smith! Cthulhu can rise to create new nightmares! Duke University Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has a summary of the new works we can enjoy free of copyright. We provided links to some works we found at The Internet Archive, where we expect more works now in the public domain to appear.

Catch Pirate News this Sunday at 7:30pm Eastern where we will talk about Public Domain Day and all of the latest news of interest to Pirates.

Here is a selection of works available this year as well as links to copies of some of them from The Internet Archive. Many thanks to the Duke University Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain:


  • Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy (the silent version) (directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks)
  • The Cameraman (directed by Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton)
  • Lights of New York (directed by Bryan Foy; billed as “the first ‘all-talking’ picture”)
  • The Circus (directed by Charlie Chaplin)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer)
  • The Singing Fool (directed by Lloyd Bacon; follow-up to The Jazz Singer)
  • Speedy (directed by Ted Wilde; Harold Lloyd’s last silent theatrical release)
  • In Old Arizona (“100% all talking” film featuring singing cowboys)
  • The Man Who Laughs (directed by Paul Leni; features a character who inspired the appearance of the Joker from Batman)
  • Should Married Men Go Home? (directed by Leo McCarey and James Parrott; the first Laurel and Hardy film to bill them as a team)


You can also check Project Gutenberg and Standard Ebooks for other copies.

Musical Compositions (You are free to perform them yourself!)

  • Animal Crackers (musical starring the Marx Brothers; book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind and lyrics and music by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby)
  • Mack the Knife (original German lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill; from The Threepenny Opera)
  • Pick Pocket Blues (Bessie Smith)
  • Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) (Cole Porter; from the musical Paris)
  • Sonny Boy (George Gard DeSylva, Lew Brown & Ray Henderson; from the film The Singing Fool starring Al Jolson)
  • When You’re Smiling (lyrics by Mark Fisher and Joe Goodwin and music by Larry Shay)
  • Empty Bed Blues (J. C. Johnson)
  • I Wanna Be Loved By You (lyrics by Bert Kalmar and music by Herbert Stothart and Harry Ruby; from the musical Good Boy)
  • Makin’ Whoopee! (lyrics by Gus Khan and music by Walter Donaldson)
  • You’re My Necessity, You’re The Cream in My Coffee (George Gard DeSylva, Lew Brown & Ray Henderson; from the musical Hold Everything!)
  • I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby (lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by James Francis)

Sound Recordings from 1923

  • Charleston (recorded by James P. Johnson)
  • Yes! We Have No Bananas (recorded by Billy Jones; Furman and Nash; Eddie Cantor; Belle Baker; The Lanin Orchestra)
  • Who’s Sorry Now (recorded by Lewis James; The Happy Six; the Original Memphis Five)
  • Down Hearted Blues (recorded by Bessie Smith; Tennessee Ten)
  • Lawdy, Lawdy Blues (recorded by Ida Cox)
  • Southern Blues and Moonshine Blues (recorded by Ma Rainey)
  • Down South Blues (recorded by Hannah Sylvester; The Virginians)
  • Wolverine Blues (recorded by the Benson Orchestra of Chicago)
  • Tin Roof Blues (recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings)

Copyrighted works entering the public domain were put on hold by the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, aka the the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, which extended the term of copyright from the life of the author + 50 years to life of the author + 70 years. When the term of copyright was 28 years with a 28 year renewal, 85% of copyrighted works were not renewed since the profit from the work wasn’t higher than the cost of renewal. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain notes:

"A Congressional Research Service report indicated that only around 2% of copyrights between 55 and 75 years old retain commercial value. After 75 years, that percentage is even lower. Most older works are “orphan works,” where the copyright owner cannot be found at all."

As a result, we have lost 20 years worth of films, news reels and documentaries because many of them have simply rotted away as the copyright holders didn’t have a financial incentive to digitize them and archivists couldn’t do so while the works were under copyright.

Every January 1st we get some of our culture back and we can certainly celebrate that!

Image Credit: Public Domain

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