Every year I try to celebrate the major new entries into the public domain. If you don’t know what he public domain is, I’ll attempt an explanation. Ages ago, it was decided the the creators of art (that is, any type of media) should only get exclusive rights to that art for so long. Then, after a time, that art is given over to the culture. It belongs to everyone. Our predecessors realized that a culture cannot grow if it cannot use its art and experiences freely. So now, every January 1st, new works of literature, film, music, painting, and so on lose their copyrights. They belong to the people.
Normally, works become public domain 70 years after the author’s death. If it’s a work-for-hire type thing, the copyright lasts 95 years after it is published. There are weird exceptions and caveats, but they aren’t worth going into in this blog post. You can read more HERE.
Anyhow, today is a BIG day for the public domain. It wouldn’t surprise me if you hadn’t already seen some news stories about how Mickey and Minnie Mouse are no longer the exclusive property of the Walt Disney Corporation. They below to everyone. Now, that is limited to the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse, but it also means that people are free to develop their own derivative works. So you can create your own, original version of Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse so long as it does not infringe on later incarnations of those characters. It’s complicated, but Mickey Mouse now belongs to you!
In addition, Peter Pan, Tigger, and Tarzan enter the public domain this year. That’s five major characters that belong to the people, not the corporations. It’s been a long time since this many important literary figures entered the public domain at the same time. So you are now free to create your own stories about Neverland and Tarzan of the jungle.
Keep in mind, though, that the Disney animations for Peter Pan, Tigger, and Tarzan are still under copyright protection. It’s just the characters themselves we now have access to since the original works of literature that produced them have aged out of copyright.
Additionally, we aren’t too far from some other major works entering the public domain. This year marks the 10 year countdown until The Chronicles of Narnia become public domain. The same goes for Superman. Batman hits public domain in 11 years. It’s only 20 years before the works of J.R.R. Tolkien become public domain. And in the short term, the works of Laura Ingles Wilder, Dorothy Sayers, and Thomas Mann all go public domain before the end of this decade.
So rejoice everyone! You now own some of the biggest cultural icons in history. You can add Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan to Jay Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, Chtullu, and Pinocchio to your list of potential famous characters to write about. If that is a goal of yours, then I wish you all the best in your creative endeavors!