This year (2019) marked the first year in ages when authors and their works entered the Public Domain. In the 1990's Disney along with a bunch of other media companies convinced Congress to favor them over the common citizenry and extend copyright protections another 20 years.
Now, thanks to even more powerful (but not more likable) tech companies and a strong grass-roots movement, Congress refrained from extending those protections further.
As a result, several dozen authors' and artists' work entered the public domain allowing anyone so inclined to use their work however they pleased without a license. Most of them were people you've probably never heard of, but this coming January will be different.
On January 1st, 2020, Richard Connell and Margaret Mitchell will enter the Public Domain. You probably know them better by their works: The Most Dangerous Game and Gone With the Wind respectively.
Yes, starting in January, General Zaroff and Scarlet O'Hara will be available for authors and artists to add in their stories and expound without fear of lawsuits. Now, these are just for the written works, not the film adaptations - so be careful about that.
Connell and Mitchell are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Here's a list of other authors and the years when their works will be Public Domain:
Some of the big ones are George Orwell (Animal Farm, 1984), Laura Ingles Wilder (Little House on the Prairie), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), Ian Flemming (James Bond), and J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings). Also, in 2024, Steamboat Willie enters the Public Domain.
Granted, some of those names are more than two decades out, but just imagine a budding writer sitting in a High School English class today. When that student becomes my age, a huge chunk of Tolkien's works will be freely available to all. Keep in Mind, Amazon paid a quarter billion dollars for those rights just last year.
This is a massive win for small-time authors. It's an even bigger deal for independent movie-makers. Each year, some of the greatest works ever written will become available for screenwriters to use in low-budget films.
The next 10-20 years will see a massive influx of new takes on old works. I, for one, cannot wait to see what people do.