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First mass public domain release in 20 years provides opportunities for artists, creators

NOW: First mass public domain release in 20 years provides opportunities for artists, creators

As of January 1, for the first time in 21 years, over 50,000 works including movies, literature, art, and poetry, were released into the public domain.

Assistant manager for research and technology at St. Joseph County Public Library, Kassie McLaughlin, says that this release will have a huge impact on the next generation of media.

“I think it will impact artists and creators, especially those at the independent level. Because people with money and backing from studios have always been able to access this material they just had to pay for it. Now that it’s free, independent creators who don’t have those sorts of funds are able to take that material and use it as inspiration. I’m hoping that the library can be a good platform for people looking to use those resources,” McLaughlin said.

Works in the public domain may be used and built upon, free from permissions or fees.

Characters such as “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” live in the public domain, and recently have been re-imagined and remastered to fit new creative visions.

Notable releases this year include:

Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" (1923) released into the public domain on January 1, 2019.

"The Covered Wagon" (1923) released into the public domain on January 1, 2019.

"Tarzan and the Golden Lion" by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1923) released into the public domain on January 1, 2019.

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost (1923) released into the public domain on January 1, 2019.

Charlie Chaplin's "The Pilgrim" (1923) released into the public domain on January 1, 2019.

Due to changing laws, a release such as this has not happened in over two decades.

Disney urged Congress to protect Mickey Mouse from being released into the public domain, who then passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, adding 20 years to copyright terms.

This created a 20 year gap between mass public domain releases and secured Mickey Mouse’s copyright protection until 2024. 2019 marks the first year of a now annual mass release of content into the public domain.

“So far we’ve only had up to 1922 and the 1920s were a great, creative period in the United States, so to be able to move forward with that is very exciting and it really opens up a lot of potential for people accessing the material and for creators to take the material and update it, modernize it or put their own spin on it,” McLaughlin said.

In effect, 2019’s release is the first mass release of the modern digital age.

“For the first time you can log onto your home computer and go to Google because they’ve been at the ready, they’ve been waiting and you can now access full texts. This is unprecedented because in 1998 when the last big release happened, the internet was in its infancy. People had computers in their homes but they weren’t accessing the internet every day or using it for work the way they are now,” McLaughlin said.

Accessing the public domain can be done online using a Google search, and using tools such as Project Gutenberg and the Poetry Foundation.

McLaughlin says that having an internet connection is almost essential in accessing the public domain, but reminds residents that they can use the library to access, consume, and print these works.

The St. Joseph County Public Library also offers a digital studio, Studio 304, as a resource for the local community to use to create their own content.

Studio 304 boasts a virtual reality console, Adobe programs like Photoshop, 3D printer, digital drawing pad, sound booth, and green screen amongst other equipment.

It is open every day of the week except Sundays and Wednesdays starting at 10 a.m.

Another mass release is set for January 1, 2020.

“It’s almost like opening a time capsule every time a January 1st rolls around and you’re able to look at the list and think ‘oh this is something I’ve never considered before,’ to go look it up, and just enjoy it for the art that it is,” McLaughlin said.

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