Thousands of works of literature, music, and film have now become part of the public domain—meaning that anyone can use and reprint them, free of charge and without permission.
Teachers can now post the full text of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” online for students, or organize a community screening of Cecil B. DeMille’s classic film “The Ten Commandments"—both published in 1923—without worrying about violating copyright law. Books by Edith Wharton, P.G. Wodehouse, e.e. cummings, and Virginia Woolf also cleared the end of their copyright terms, as have two violin sonatas by Bela Bartok.
It has taken almost 100 years for these copyrights to expire because in 1999, Congress passed a law extending protections for rights holders for 20 years. That created a two-decade gap between the works of 1922—which passed into the public domain in 1998, before the law was passed—and those of 1923.
A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2019 edition of Education Week as Copyright Expirations Open Up Thousands of Literary, Music, Film Works to Teachers