At the start of the new year copyrighted works from 1923 will become public domain after a twenty year hiatus. That’s because Congress listened to corporate arguments for extending copyright restrictions and put a hold on anything entering public domain. The
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 attempted to say, “I’ve got you, babe,” to American artists by making 1922 the cutoff for public domain for the last twenty years.
The novelist Willa Cather called 1922 the year “the world broke in two,” the start of a great literary, artistic and cultural upheaval. In 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce and T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” were published, and the Harlem Renaissance blossomed with the arrival of Claude McKay’s poetry in Harlem Shadows. For two decades those works have been in the public domain, enabling artists, critics and others to burnish that notable year to a high gloss in our historical memory. In comparison, 1923 can feel dull.
Starting next year we’ll see more works on Google Books and other digital libraries for use in rebuilding western civilization, reviving our sagging economy, colonizing Mars, and making shepherding great again, and other worthy goals long held by the readers of BwB.