Mystery Solved: Public Domain Day 2023

An image of a B&O Railroad train ticket issued to Dana Daniels, ca. 1919. Courtesy of the Union County Historical Society. Via Ohio Memory.

Happy Public Domain Day! Under U.S. copyright law, works published in 1927 will enter the public domain in the United States on January 1, 2023, when they can be freely performed, adapted, and otherwise used without a license. One such work in the State Library of Ohio’s collection is The Catalogue of the Centenary Exhibition of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad 1827-1927, which documents the B&O’s centennial celebration. (You can learn more about Ohio’s railroad history in this blog post.)

Mystery fans will be happy to see The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes enter the public domain on January 1. This is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s final book featuring the detective, which means the entire original Holmes canon is now in the public domain. For those interested in a bit of nostalgia, the first three novels in The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon (The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, and The Secret of the Old Mill) will also be entering the public domain. The series was developed by Edward Stratemeyer, who also produced the Nancy Drew mystery series. All books in both series were written by ghostwriters using a pseudonym; Ohioan Mildred Wirt Benson was a ghostwriter for many of the early Nancy Drew books.

A photo of a B&O Railroad Passenger Station in Defiance, Ohio, from 1917. Courtesy of the Defiance Public Library System. Via Ohio Memory.

Other notable books entering the public domain include Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather and 1927 works by Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, Edith Wharton, and Thornton Wilder. Those titles will be joined by several books that were later adapted for the silver screen, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven (the basis for the 1948 film featuring Humphrey Bogart); Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis (the basis for the 1960 film starring Burt Lancaster, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance); and The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury (the basis for the 2002 Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York).

A photo of Millie Benson surrounded by books she wrote from 1949. Courtesy of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Via Ohio Memory.

Movies entering the public domain include The Jazz Singer (considered the first feature-length film with synchronized dialogue); The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller); Metropolis (an early science fiction classic); Wings (which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture); and It. This silent movie does feature “It Girl” Clara Bow but does not feature any creepy clowns.

Musical compositions entering the public domain include 1927 works by Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin, Bessie Smith, and more. Note that only the music and lyrics—the sheet music—are entering the public domain; sound recordings are governed by different copyright law. You may remember from last year’s Public Domain Day blog post that decades of pre-1923 sound recordings entered the public domain on January 1, 2022. No recordings will enter the public domain in 2023, but recordings from 1923 will enter the public domain on January 1, 2024. We’ll see you then for another Public Domain Day!

Thank you to Stephanie Michaels, Research and Catalog Services Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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