Works by M.C. Escher, Virginia Woolf & Others Enter the Public Domain

by Jessica Fuentes January 3, 2023

January 1, 2023 marked the annual Public Domain Day, in which certain copyrights expire, bringing new works of literature, cinema, and visual art into the public domain. This year, copyrighted literature, film, and art from 1927 has entered the United States public domain, making the works free for anyone to copy, share, or expand upon. 

A photograph of the book cover of "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, originally published 1927.

Some major written works now in the public domain include Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Countee Cullen’s second book of collected poems Copper Sun, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Agatha Christie’s The Big Four, and Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York. The original German versions of Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf and Franz Kafka’s Amerika have also entered into the public domain.

A monochrome lithograph poster for the movie Metropolis. The poster features a human-like robot in front of a downtown skyline.

Heinz Schulz-Neudamm, “Poster for Metropolis,” 1926, lithograph, 81 x 36 1/2 inches.

Movies that have entered the public domain include Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang; the first feature-length film with synchronized sound, The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland; and The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

A sepia toned photograph of a shoemaking studio at the Tuskegee Institute. Nine young Black men work at various stations.

Frances Benjamin Johnston, “Shoemaking, Tuskegee Institute,” 1902, gelatin silver print, 6 7/8 x 9 3/8 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase funded by the S. I. and Susie Morris Photography Endowment.

Unlike many countries whose public domain laws relate to an amount of time passed after the creator’s death, the U.S.’ laws concern the work’s dates of publication. Throughout most of Europe, works are transferred to the public domain 70 years after the creator’s death. Notable artists who died in 1952, and whose work is now in the public domain in Europe, include American photographer and photojournalist Frances Benjamin Johnston, American painter and illustrator Howard Chandler Christy, Italian writer and painter Alberto Savinio, Welsh sculptor Goscombe John, and American Modernist painter Arthur Beecher Carles.

For Canada, New Zealand, and many countries in Africa and Asia that transfer works to the public domain 50 years after the creator’s death, pieces by M. C. Escher have entered the public domain.

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