The Public Domain Class of 1923: Introduction


I love the public domain.

What I love even more than the public domain is Creative Commons. Creative Commons offers another fantastic way to share and collaborate on work through a number of different licenses that creators can use to tailor how they want to share their work with the world. The music that I used for the book trailer for The Voyager Record was under a Creative Commons license.

This gorgeous track by Chris Zabriskie, slightly altered in the video, is titled "What True Self? Feels Bogus, Let's Watch Jason X." The sound was exactly what we were looking for, and the title matched the reverent/irreverent nature of the book. And it was free to use and remix, as long as it was properly credited. That to me is why Creative Commons is even more valuable than the public domain: it gives artists credit and a way to share their work without waiting until they die, plus another 70 years after that.

I also use Creative Commons searches for most of the visual material that I use on this blog. These searches are great because you can pick from a few different search engines/repositories. Usually, I'll go with something from Wikipedia Commons, if only because it has the most clarity about the usage rights with an automated way to cite the source.

As much as I like Creative Commons and its kind of tip-your-hat sourcing, the public domain remains the end goal for any intellectual property. It's as if all works go to heaven. And something really big is about to happen with the public domain.

After a twenty-year hiatus, the public domain has been refreshed with a huge influx of works slipping their copyright bonds. All these works were created in 1923. The arcane reason why they haven't been released into the public domain sooner is a depressing reminder of corporate control of the legislative process. In 1998, Disney lobbied Congress to pause copyright release in order to prevent Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain in 2004. With the new law Congress put in place, no copyrights would lapse and enter public domain until 2019, meaning Mickey would be safe until 2024.

There are a few different places I like that promote public domain artworks. The Public Domain Review is a good example of a creative use of public domain sources, though their preference for esoteric materials kind of skews what they offer. Open Culture is another great proponent for public domain works. Bartleby used to be great — their online Gray's anatomy was a big resource for my LiveJournal user pics in a past life — but I'm not sure what their deal is these days.

But none of those places are producing new work based on public domain themselves. And with this huge class of 1923 coming out this year, I want to take full advantage of that availability, and to evangelize the public domain here on Misreader.

Over the next few months, I'll be writing a series of posts spotlighting different works from 1923 by creating new pieces out of them. For good measure, I'm going to share these new works via Creative Commons licenses. I'm not sure what the first artwork I'll use will be, but I'm excited to find out. And open to your suggestions! So let me know if there's something from 1923 that you want to see come back to life in a new way in 2019.

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