Thousands of Classic Films, Books, and Illustrations Just Entered the Public Domain

The cover of the book 'Millions of Cats.' which shows a red, yellow, and black illustration of a figure with many cats in a landscape.

The cover of ‘Millions of Cats’ (1928), written and illustrated by Wanda Gág

From familiar classics to obscure treasures, a trove of literature, art, film, and music has just become easier to access. On January 1, thousands of books, films, plays, artworks, sound recordings, and more entered the public domain, which means they may be used freely without compensating or needing to obtain permission from the owner.

Most notable on the list this year are the very first adventures of Disney icon Mickey Mouse—and Minnie!—in Steamboat Willie and the silent version of Plane Crazy. These pieces in particular have stirred a lot of interest: in 1984, the copyright term for creations from 1928 was 54 years, but a legal extension changed that to 2004. Then Disney pushed for an additional 20 years—derisively called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by scholars—which brings us to its release in 2024.

 

A still of Mickey Mouse from 'Steamboat Willie' showing him at the wheel of a ship.

‘Steamboat Willie’ (1928)

Some other phenomenal additions to the public domain this year include the perennial favorite picture book Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág, which has the distinction of being the earliest American children’s book still in print. Literary heavyweights like W.E.B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover—among many others—are joined by two of the first “all-talking” films ever released, Lights of New York and In Old Arizona.

And don’t forget about some of our favorite children’s book characters, like Peter Pan and the Darling children, who first appeared in a play in 1904, then in book form in 1911, in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up—now in the public domain because it wasn’t “published” for copyright in the U.S. until 1928. And, of course, there’s Christopher Robin and his friends in the Seven Acre Wood. E.H. Sheperd’s quintessential illustrations in A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner introduced us to Tigger.

Explore an in-depth list and stories behind more of these works by Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

 

A poster for Charlie Chaplin's film 'The Circus.'

Poster for ‘The Circus’ (1928) directed by Charlie Chaplin

Two images side-by-side. The left shows a black-and-white poster for the film 'Lights of New York.' The right-hand image shows the first-edition cover of the book 'Dark Princess' by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Left: Poster for ‘Lights of New York’ (1928). Right: First edition of ‘Dark Princess’  (1928) by W.E.B. Du Bois

An illustration of Tigger falling out of a tree and about to be caught by Christopher Robin, Poo, Piglet, Eeyore, and a squirrel.

E.H. Sheperd, “Tiggers Can’t Climb Trees” (1928) for ‘House at Pooh Corner’ (1928) by A.A. Milne

Frontispiece of 'Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up' (1911) by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Francis Donkin Bedford.

Frontispiece of ‘Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up’ (1911) by J.M. Barrie, illustrated by Francis Donkin Bedford

Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. The article Thousands of Classic Films, Books, and Illustrations Just Entered the Public Domain appeared first on Colossal.

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