You, too, Can Become a Publisher, Part 1

Public Domain Day 2023

By Jennifer Jenkins, Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain

January 1, 2023 is Public Domain Day: Works from 1927 are open to all!

Montage of 1927 Works

On January 1, 2023, copyrighted works from 1927 will enter the US public domain. 1  They will be free for all to copy, share, and build upon. These include Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and the final Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the German science-fiction film Metropolis and Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller, compositions by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, and a novelty song about ice cream. Please note that this site is only about US law; the copyright terms in other countries are different.

Art Deco-style break

Here are just a few of the works that will be in the US public domain in 2023. 2  They were supposed to go into the public domain in 2003, after being copyrighted for 75 years. But before this could happen, Congress hit a 20-year pause button and extended their copyright term to 95 years. Now the wait is over. (To find more material from 1927, you can visit the Catalogue of Copyright Entries.)


The Gangs of New York (the original 1927 publication)
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
  • Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • Countee Cullen, Copper Sun
  • A. A. Milne, Now We Are Six, illustrations by E. H. Shepard
  • Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women (collection of short stories)
  • William Faulkner, Mosquitoes
  • Agatha Christie, The Big Four
  • Edith Wharton, Twilight Sleep
  • Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York (the original 1927 publication)
  • Franklin W. Dixon (pseudonym), The Tower Treasure (the first Hardy Boys book)
  • Hermann Hesse, Der Steppenwolf (in the original German)
  • Franz Kafka, Amerika (in the original German)
  • Marcel Proust, Le Temps retrouvé (the final installment of In Search of Lost Time, in the original French)

These are just a handful of the thousands of books entering the public domain in 2023. There is a lot to celebrate: a modernist masterpiece, poetry from the Harlem Renaissance, children’s verses featuring Winnie-the-Pooh and other characters, and early works from Hemingway and Faulkner. Copyright will also expire over Arthur Conan Doyle’s final Sherlock Holmes stories—you can read more about copyright over characters and the Doyle estate’s attempts to artificially extend rights over Holmes and Dr. Watson here.

Image representing Der Steppenwolf at the Magic Theater

Movies Entering the Public Domain

The King of Kings (directed by Cecil B. DeMille)
  • Metropolis (directed by Fritz Lang)
  • The Jazz Singer (the first feature-length film with synchronized dialogue; directed by Alan Crosland)
  • Wings (winner of the first Academy Award for outstanding picture; directed by William A. Wellman)
  • Sunrise (directed by F.W. Murnau)
  • The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller)
  • The King of Kings (directed by Cecil B. DeMille)
  • London After Midnight (now a lost film; directed by Tod Browning)
  • The Way of All Flesh (now a lost film; directed by Victor Fleming)
  • 7th Heaven (inspired the ending of the 2016 film La La Land; directed by Frank Borzage)
  • The Kid Brother (starring Harold Lloyd; directed by Ted Wilde)
  • The Battle of the Century (starring the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy; directed by Clyde Bruckman)
  • Upstream (directed by John Ford)

1927 marked the beginning of the end of the silent film era, with the release of the first full-length feature with synchronized dialogue and sound. Here are the first words spoken in a feature film from The Jazz Singer“Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet.” Read about the transition from the silent film to the “talkie” era, and the quest to preserve some of the remarkable silent films on this list, here. Please note that while the original footage from these films will be in the public domain, newly added material such as musical accompaniment might still be copyrighted. If a film has been restored or reconstructed, only original and creative additions are eligible for copyright; if a restoration faithfully mimics the preexisting film, it does not contain newly copyrightable material. (Putting skill, labor, and money into a project is not enough to qualify it for copyright. The Supreme Court has made clear that “the sine qua non of copyright is originality.”) In the list above, while some of the titles were not registered for copyright until 1928 or 1929, the original version of the film was published with a 1927 copyright notice, so the copyright expires over that version in 2023.

Musical Compositions

Bessie Smith
Louis Armstrong
  • The Best Things in Life Are Free (George Gard De Sylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson; from the musical Good News)
  • (I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream (Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, Robert A. King)
  • Puttin’ on the Ritz (Irving Berlin)
  • Funny Face and ’S Wonderful (Ira and George Gershwin; from the musical Funny Face)
  • Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and Ol’ Man River (Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern; from the musical Show Boat)
  • Back Water BluesPreaching the BluesFoolish Man Blues (Bessie Smith)
  • Potato Head BluesGully Low Blues (Louis Armstrong)
  • Rusty Pail BluesSloppy Water BluesSoothin’ Syrup Stomp (Thomas Waller)
  • Black and Tan Fantasy and East St. Louis Toodle-O (Bub Miley, Duke Ellington)
  • Billy Goat StompHyena StompJungle Blues (Ferdinand Joseph Morton)
  • My Blue Heaven (George Whiting, Walter Donaldson)
  • Diane (Erno Rapee, Lew Pollack)
  • Mississippi Mud (Harry Barris, James Cavanaugh)
Ice Cream song image
Dessert, anyone? 2023’s newly public domain
works include a song about ice cream and
a film with the Guinness record for the
most pies thrown
 (3,000). A la mode, please!

More on copyright and the public domain in tomorrow’s Silverback Digest!

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