Planning on sleeping in on Public Domain Day? Well … Wake up and smell the unbridled access to another novel from Virginia Woolf, some of André Breton’s Surrealist text, an iconic American picture book for cat lovers, Tigger the bouncy stuffed tiger, and so much more. Every January 1, a slew of artistic and literary content becomes free for the public to access, use, remix, and enjoy, and the Public Domain Review journal has kindly produced another advent calendar countdown for historically significant content that’ll be free to use depending on international copyright expiration parameters.
Nations whose public domain accessions abide by either 50 or 70 years after a creator’s death will get to freely access the artwork of Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Rudolf Bauer, and Albert Gleizes. On the other hand, the United States’s public domain will be enhanced by a trove of media released in 1928 (copyright term: 95 years), which means that the most iconic additions to our public domain will be the very first official iterations of Walt Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse by the way of the animated short film “Steamboat Willie” (1928).
Disney has successfully lobbied for decades to extend the protection for “Steamboat Willie.” The company did specify to the Associated Press that the modern forms of Mr. and Mrs. Mouse are trademarked and still protected under copyright law, and that artists and creators are only able to adapt the pair’s initial versions into their own work and merchandise.
The oldest American picture book still in print, Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats (1928), featuring illustrations and cover art by Gág and hand-lettered text by her brother, is now free for millions of Americans to use as they wish. Having won the 1929 Newbery Medal, Gág’s double-page spread depicts a tender but slightly disturbing tale of a lonely elderly couple’s desire and decision to choose the perfect cat to share their love with, only to find that they’re spoiled for choice.
Bouncing back to Tigger, who makes his world debut in the second chapter of A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner (1928) illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Our beloved anthropomorphized stuffed animal friend is getting a scary twist in Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2 (2024), an independent slasher film slated for the big screen early this year. Equally bouncy — if not floaty — the finalized play script version of Peter Pan is also joining the public domain from J. M. Barries’s final revision of Peter Pan: or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up was released stateside in 1928.
Outside of iconic children-centered media, prolific 20th-century English writer Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography (1928) became accessible exactly one year after To the Lighthouse (1927). Surrealist writer and artist André Breton’s celebrated second novel Nadja (1928), a first-person “account” of a 10-day whirlwind relationship with the emotionally volatile namesake character who may not even exist, is also available for those who seek introspection and paradoxes in the new year.
W. E. B. Du Bois’s own favorite, Dark Princess (1928) (excerpt here), an unsung and rather scrutinized novel that explores revolutionary love, international racial justice, and Afro-Asian solidarity in a White-dominated society, also joins the public domain this year.
Also scrutinized if not outright banned for its graphic steaminess and repeated uses of the words “fuck” and “cunt,” D. H. Lawrence’s final novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), chronicling and analyzing a fictional passionate love affair between the married upper-class Constance Reid and the working-class Oliver Mellors, is now copyright-free. The English novel was banned in the United States in 1929 for its explicit content, and the ban was overturned 30 years later. All’s fair in love and WAP?
Happy Public Domain Day!