Most Shared

Thanks to U.S. copyright laws, nothing has entered the public domain in nearly 40 years.

This year's new free public works include Anne Frank's diary, 'The Sound of Music,' and much, much more — unless you live in America.

Thanks to U.S. copyright laws, nothing has entered the public domain in nearly 40 years.

Every year on Jan. 1, hundreds of copyrights enter the public domain like a New Year's gift to the world, making them free to use for absolutely any reason.

Let's back up a second. Copyrights cover the span of intellectual and creative properties — everything from movies, books, and songs to software, industrial designs, and scientific concepts.

But these protections don't last forever.


It's all about finding the balance between the rights of the creator and the benefits to the public interest. After all, where would we be if things like "Grimms' Fairy Tales" or the Bible or, ya know, computer programming languages were kept on a tight leash by a single company to distribute and profit from as they saw fit?

GIF from the (criminally underrated) film "The Brothers Grimm."

The specifics vary from country to country, but most copyrights expire 50 to 70 years after death or publication.

In countries like Canada, New Zealand, and the majority of Africa and Asia, this means anything made by anyone who died in 1965 is fair game. Books, movies, and music published that same year are also in the public domain.

This includes works from "The Waste Land" poet T.S. Eliot, "A Raisin in the Sun" author Lorraine Hansberry, the endlessly-quotable British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and minister and human rights activist Malcolm X, as well as movies like "The Sound of Music" and "Thunderball."

GIF from "Thunderball." Also if we're being technical, Ian Fleming died in 1964, so the entire concept of "James Bond" is already public domain in these countries. They can remix and reuse him the same way people do Shakespeare.

And people in the European Union, Russia, or Brazil can now freely enjoy anything published in or created by someone who died in 1945.

Pretty cool that everyone in the EU is free to do what they please with the works of blues singer Blind Willie Johnson and former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (so much mash-up potential!). There were also those few neat books like "Animal Farm" and "Pippi Longstocking" plus plays like "The Glass Menagerie" and "Carousel." (Those last two alone would save so much money for high school theater programs.)

GIF from the movie version of "Pippi Longstocking," which itself is still protected by copyright law in these countries, but at least that wouldn't stop you from making your own Pippi Longstocking movie or adapting the original stories into a new hip-hop concept album, or an interactive smartphone video game. The possibilities are endless!

But in America? Not so much. And it's been that way for 40 years.

Oh. Yeah. About that.

Back in 1976, Congress made some changes to U.S. copyright laws, retroactively extending the terms for recent expirations. Then in 1998, they went and did it again when the copyright for the debut animation of a certain mouse-eared corporate mascot was about to become public property.

The result? No copyrights have entered the public domain in the United States since 1978, and no open source intellectual properties will become available until 2019, when we'll finally have access to things from 1923. Yay?

GIF from "Steamboat Willie." Racist undertones aside, can you imagine what percentage of their revenue they would lose without being able to claim the singular ownership of Mickey Mouse? It would be at least like 0.02% of Disney's annual profits!

The U.S. is the only country that lets corporations protect copyrights like this. But Disney is not the only guilty party.

After a whole lot of legal back-and-forth, Sherlock Holmes only entered the public domain in the U.S. in June 2014; of course, none of this was an issue when there were two separate but equally popular Sherlock Holmes media properties.

And it wasn't until this past fall that the "Happy Birthday" song finally took its rightful place in the public domain, after Warner Music had claimed the rights to the song for years in order to keep charging for its use.

This is also why your waiters at TGI Fridays have to sing a different birthday song when you lie and tell them it's someone's birthday for the enjoyment of public embarrassment and the free ice cream sundae. You do that, too, right?

Meanwhile, Anne Frank's father was recently named as the co-author of "The Diary of a Young Girl" in order to extend the book's copyright by another 35 years — the twofold irony being that this claim kind of undermines the whole point of the book, and Hitler's copyright also ended this year and his works are now in the public domain.

That's right: the Anne Frank Foundation wants to keep the profits from her diary all to themselves, but "Mein Kampf" is freely available for anyone to produce, remix, or distribute.

Let that sink in for a moment.

However, copyright remix laws help ensure that things like this can exist.

These public domain works are more than just free, fun giveaways. They're the foundation of our culture.

The public domain is how we pass things down through generations — how ideas spread, proliferate, and grow into new and better things.

That being said, there are plenty of valid reasons for the existence of (limited) copyright laws. But there's also evidence that public domain properties are better for society, both culturally and economically.

This is what allows us to share knowledge on Wikipedia or retell and re-examine famous stories like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." If we weren't able to take, adapt, and redistribute concepts and culture, we'd never have "Star Wars," or smartphone apps from independent developers, or this hilarious video of Vanilla Ice trying to justify his sampling of Queen's "Under Pressure."

When Ice told us to, "Stop! Collaborate and listen!" he was clearly referring to the the importance of public domain properties in perpetuating human culture; unfortunately, Queen is not in the public domain (yet). GIF via Kasper Hartwich/YouTube.

At the end of the day, everything is a remix.

And that's exactly what makes our culture so great — and why it's so important for America to follow the rest of the world's lead.

If you want to join the good fight for a more open culture, you can check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the American Library Association.

True
Back Market

Between the new normal that is working from home and e-learning for students of all ages, having functional electronic devices is extremely important. But that doesn't mean needing to run out and buy the latest and greatest model. In fact, this cycle of constantly upgrading our devices to keep up with the newest technology is an incredibly dangerous habit.

The amount of e-waste we produce each year is growing at an increasing rate, and the improper treatment and disposal of this waste is harmful to both human health and the planet.

So what's the solution? While no one expects you to stop purchasing new phones, laptops, and other devices, what you can do is consider where you're purchasing them from and how often in order to help improve the planet for future generations.

Keep Reading Show less

One night in 2018, Sheila and Steve Albers took their two youngest sons out to dinner. Their 17-year-old son, John, was in a crabby mood—not an uncommon occurrence for the teen who struggled with mental health issues—so he stayed home.

A half hour later, Sheila's started getting text messages that John wasn't safe. He had posted messages with suicidal ideations on social media and his friends had called the police to check on him. The Albers immediately raced home.

When they got there, they were met with a surreal scene. Their minivan was in the neighbor's yard across the street. John had been shot in the driver's seat six times by a police officer who had arrived to check on him. The officer had fired two shots as the teen slowly backed the van out of the garage, then 11 more after the van spun around backward. But all the officers told the Albers was that John had "passed" and had been shot. They wouldn't find out until the next day who had shot and killed him.

Keep Reading Show less
True

$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


via msleja / TikTok

In 2019, the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada instituted a policy that forbids teachers from participating in "partisan political activities" during school hours. The policy states that "any signage that is displayed on District property that is, or becomes, political in nature must be removed or covered."

The new policy is based on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 Janus decision that limits public employees' First Amendment protections for speech while performing their official duties.

This new policy caused a bit of confusion with Jennifer Leja, a 7th and 8th-grade teacher in the district. She wondered if, as a bisexual woman, the new policy forbids her from discussing her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

How we talk about Black Lives Matter protests across America is often a reflection of how we personally feel about the fight for racial equality itself. We're all biased toward our own preferences and a fractured news media hasn't helped things by skewing facts, emphasizing preferred narratives and neglecting important stories, oftentimes out of fear that they might alienate their increasingly partisan and entrenched audiences.

This has been painfully clear in how we report on and talk about the protests themselves. Are they organized by Antifa and angry mobs of BLM renegades hell bent on the destruction of everything wholesome about America? Or, are they entirely peaceful demonstrations in which only the law enforcement officers are the bad actors? The uncomfortable truth is that both extreme narratives ignore key facts. The overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful.protests have been peaceful. The facts there are clear. And the police have also provoked acts of aggression against peaceful demonstrators, leading to injuries and unnecessary arrests. Yet, there have been glaring exceptions of vandalism, intimidation and violence in cities like Portland, Seattle, and most recently, Louisville. And while some go so far as to quite literally defend looting, that's a view far outside the mainstream of nearly all Americans across various age, racial and cultural demographics.

But what if we step away from the larger philosophical debate and narrow things down to one very important fact: the vast majority of those stirring division at protests are white.

And if you don't believe me, just listen to Durham, North Carolina's mayor and what he had to say about how white people are "hijacking" Breonna Taylor's legacy and transforming a movement that has suddenly split Americans after having near unanimous support just a few months ago.


Keep Reading Show less