Public Domain Day takes place on January 1st of every year. The European Union has a term of life plus 70 years, meaning the works of authors who died in 1947 go into the public domain on January 1, 2018 (the beginning of the year after copyright expiration).

In Canada, New Zealand, and many other countries the term is life plus 50 years, so the works of authors who died in 1967 will enter the public domain in 2018. However, it is often very hard to determine if a particular work is in the public domain. The public domain works we mention are based on the assumption that the named author is the copyright holder and that the term is life plus fifty or seventy years.

For USA, as in much of the world, copyright lasts for the author’s lifetime, plus another 70 years. You might think, therefore, that works whose authors died in 1947 would be freely available on January 1, 2018.

When Congress changed the law, it applied the term extension retrospectively to existing works, and gave all in-copyright works published between 1923 and 1977 a term of 95 years.

The result? None of those works will enter the public domain until 2019, and works from 1961, whose arrival we might otherwise be expecting January 1, 2018, will not enter the public domain until 2057. In addition to lengthening the term, Congress also changed the law so that every creative work is automatically copyrighted, even if the author does nothing.

In United States not a single published work is entering the public domain. Works published in 1923 will finally begin to enter in their public domain next year. The only works that are clearly in the US public domain now are those published before 1923.

Works that Canadians and Europeans can freely use, as of 2018: in Canada, the works of René Magritte, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker, and many more. In the EU, the works of Hugh Lofting (the Doctor DoLittle books) and William Moulton Marston.

When the first copyright law was written in the United States, copyright lasted 14 years, renewable for another 14 years if the author wished. Jefferson or Madison could look at the books written by their contemporaries and confidently expect them to be in the public domain within a decade or two.

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