Public Domain 2019: A Jeffersonian Ideal Restored, a Creative Year Set Free

On January 1, 2019, all works first published in the US in 1923 shed their copyrights and rose into the public domain—every poem, every novel, every film, every musical composition. It is the first time since 1998 that published works shed their copyrights. This was cause for celebration: the public domain was reborn! Now a new cadre of works joins the public domain each year on January 1.

From January 10 to May 17, 2019, the University of Virginia Library celebrated Public Domain 2019 with an exhibition in the First Floor Gallery of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The exhibition explored copyright’s historical roots, including Thomas Jefferson’s characteristically bold and complex thoughts on property in ideas; the 1998 battle over whether to add 20 more years to copyright’s term; some UVA-curated highlights from the body of work from 1923 that rose into the public domain in 2019; and some of the puzzles and wrinkles that will continue to make the public domain a mysterious and intriguing territory for years to come, from 3D printed remixes to 100-year-old wax cylinders.