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Silent ‘Ten Commandments’ among works entering public domain

Tribune-Review
| Monday, December 31, 2018 5:45 p.m
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Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

Cecil B. DeMille’s silent film version of “The Ten Commandments,” the Agatha Christie mystery novel “The Murder on the Links” and the novelty song “Yes! We Have No Bananas” are among artistic works from 1923 that are entering the public domain in 2019.

Beginning on New Year’s Day, presumed copyrights will expire for those and other works published in the United States in 1923, allowing them to be broadcast, streamed, performed, posted, printed or adapted as part of new works, without obtaining permission.

According to Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain , Google Books will be able to offer the full text of books from that year, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews.

Other works that will become available for unfettered public distribution on “Public Domain Day” include two comedy classics of the silent era — Harold Lloyd’s “Safety Last!” and Charlie Chaplin’s “The Pilgrim.”

Additional literature that will be copyright-free includes Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan and the Golden Lion,” Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” some works by P.G. Wodehouse, including “The Inimitable Jeeves,” and “New Hampshire,” a collection of poems by Robert Frost that features the famous “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

The oft-recorded ditty “Who’s Sorry Now” also takes its place in the public domain, along with violin sonatas by Bela Bartok.

The 2019 shift of works into the public domain is the first to occur in more than two decades because of amendments to U.S. copyright law.

The Center for Public Domain notes works from 1923 originally would have entered the public domain in 1999, at the end of a 75-year copyright term. But, in 1998, Congress expanded the term to 95 years for works published between 1923 and 1977.

That means, barring any additional changes in law, an annual treasure trove of creative works will further enrich the public domain over the next half century. Felix Salten’s “Bambi, A Life in the Woods,” the source for the Disney animated film, is set to enter the public domain in 2022.

For works published after 1977, the copyright extends until 70 years after the last surviving author’s death, according to copyright and trademark blogger Rich Stim .

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