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An Avalanche Of Art-Works Enter The Public Domain On January 1st 2019


New Year’s Day 2019 has special significance in the U.S.  Copyright world, as, for the first time in 20 years, the body of art-works in the public domain will be increased.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Act, allows for works, first published in 1923, to enter the public domain, meaning anyone can re-publish them, or cut them up and use them in other projects, without asking consent or paying the old rights holders.

This arises from the 1976 U.S. copyright law’s retro-active extension of copyright.  First, in 1976, the law increased the period of protection of publication date, from 56 to 75 years, and then, in 1998, the Sonny Bono law increased this period to 95 years.

As a result, no new artworks have entered the public domain since 1998.

However this is all about to change, for on January 1st 2019  works from 1923 enter the Public Domain, and thereafter each year will bring its new crop of works that have been liberated.

Jennifer Jenkins, the director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, says, “Even if works from 1923 technically entered the public domain earlier because of nonrenewal, next year will be different, because then we’ll know for sure that these works are in the public domain without tedious research.”

Among the Artists whose works will become available, are works by  Switters, Brancusi and Giacometti.