As the new year dawns, published works from 1923 enter the public domain. These works were originally slated to lose copyright protection in 1999.
The Public Domain
When a work is in the public domain, that means it is not protected by copyright. People are free to perform or copy the work, or to create new works based on it, without limiting their use to what is allowable as fair use, and without going through the often confusing and potentially expensive process of figuring out whose permission is needed and obtaining that permission.
If Congress had not passed that law, works published in 1923 would have entered the public domain on New Year’s Day 1999, because that’s when their 75-year term of copyright protection would have expired.
The extended 95-year term expires 20 years after January 1, 1999; in other words, today—January 1, 2019.
Examples of 1923 Works
Here are a few popular works that enter the public domain today because they were first published in 1923:
Cecil B. DeMille’s original silent movie “The Ten Commandments,” which he remade more famously in 1956.
The photos below depict the faculty of the University of South Carolina School of Law during a few of the years in which Sarah Leverette was the first and only woman faculty member. She was the law librarian and taught a course that was the precursor to today’s Legal Research, Analysis & Writing.
Sarah was unstoppable. For all of her life, she was a champion of our better angels. There will never be a world without Sarah. She touched so many lives for so many years, and inspired so many. For those whose lives she touched, the world is transformed in a way that can’t be reversed or destroyed. Her kindness, her example, her influence, and the comfort of her memory are ours to keep in perpetuity. – Rebekah Maxwell
Lawyers today keep case files securely on their computers, or sometimes on paper in file folders. Sometimes they list cases they have argued on their website, as part of a portfolio demonstrating their expertise.
In the early 1900s, the law firm of Butler and Osborne took briefs and supporting documents from cases they had argued before the South Carolina Supreme Court and combined them into leather-bound volumes that served two purposes: recordkeeping and display.
These volumes eventually made their way to the South Carolina Legal History Room at the University of South Carolina Law Library.
Unfortunately, after more than 100 years, librarians noticed the leather crumbling. The books were quickly losing their structural integrity. Repair work had to be done.
The spine and covers had to be removed as part of the preservation process.
One volume’s spine had been torn, and delicate surgery was required.
Only the “before” and “during” photos are shown above. To see the repaired volumes, visit the Coleman Karesh Reading Room in the law library, and look in the glass display case furthest to the left.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Who would have guessed then that 49 years later, a blog post would be written about Moon Dust Law? Yet here we are summarizing two recent cases about lunar samples.
Nancy Lee Carlson bought a “lunar sample return” bag at government auction. Later it was discovered that this was the bag Neil Armstrong had used for the first lunar samples ever taken. Due to recordkeeping errors, NASA had not been informed that it was being auctioned. NASA asked the judge to set aside the sale, but the judge refused because Carlson was a bona fide purchaser. Ary at 12.
Neil Armstrong was friends with a man named Tom Murray. Armstrong gave Murray’s then 10-year-old daughter Laura a vial of moon dust along with a note, saying “To Laura Ann Murray— Best of Luck— Neil Armstrong Apollo 11.”
In the currently pending case, Laura Murray Cicco is asking a court to declare her the rightful owner of the vial of moon dust. This declaration may be necessary because NASA considers itself the rightful owner of all lunar samples. NASA Policy Directive 1387.2G.
Practicing Moon Dust Law
Interestingly, the same lawyer, Christopher McHugh of Kansas City, represented the alleged moon dust owners in both of these cases. Most lawyers pick and choose their area of practice, and Moon Dust Law might just be the narrowest practice area we’ve ever encountered. Probably not a viable full-time career choice for the vast majority of law students, but interesting nonetheless.
HeinOnline has made this collection free, including for individuals who are not affiliated with any library.
The collection contains:
every statute passed by every colony and state on slavery,
every federal statute dealing with slavery,
all reported state and federal cases on slavery,
every English-language legal commentary on slavery published before 1920,
more than a thousand pamphlets and books on slavery from the 19th century,
word-searchable access to all Congressional debates from the Continental Congress to 1880,
many modern histories of slavery and modern law review articles on the subject, and more.
Much of the non-legal material in the collection is based on the holdings of the Buffalo Public Library. Its rare book collection contains hundreds of nineteenth century pamphlets and books on slavery. The Buffalo Public Library’s staff helped make HeinOnline’s project possible.
See the collection’s home page for more details about the contents and how to navigate the collection.