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The “Class of 2014” whose work enters the public domain: From left to right from top to bottom: George Washington Carver, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Shaul Tcherinchovsky, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Nikola Tesla, Kostis Palamas, Max Wertheimer, Simone Weil, Chaïm Soutine, Fats Waller, and Beatrix Potter (via the Public Domain Review)

The start of a new year means new entries into the public domain. Today is Public Domain Day, and as we did in 2012 and 2013, we’re taking a look at the artistic additions.

The Class of 2014 — as the Public Domain Review puts it and even includes the above adorable class photo — includes those artists, authors, composers, and other creators who died in 1943. However, this is only in countries that have a “life plus 70 years” copyright rule, which includes most of South America and Europe, Russia, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Turkey, and Australia. As you may notice this does not include the United States where copyright laws are more stringent. (Here’s a rundown of the world by its copyright restrictions on the Public Domain Day site.)

There is an exception as the dearly departed makers of 1943 are joined by Sherlock Holmes, whose creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work published prior to January 1, 1923 was ruled in the public domain of the United States last month. Here are a few notable members of the Class of 2014 who are joining the London sleuth:

Chaïm Soutine

Chaim Soutine, “The Houses” (“Les Maisons”), oil on canvas, 1921 (via Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris)

French artist Chaïm Soutine’s richly-painted scenes of early abstraction — and, infamously for his neighbors at least, a rotting beef carcass — are perhaps the most prominent visual art in the Class of 2014.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, “Schematic Composition” (1933), oil and wood on composition board (via Derek Mead/Flickr user)

While a little less well-known than Soutine, Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp was also an influential artist in abstraction that was more firmly geometric before she died in 1943. She was also a sculptor and a dancer, and even made Dada theatre puppets, and she is the only woman to have the honor of her face on a Swiss franc.

Sergei Rachmaninoff 

Sergei Rachmaninoff in his late twenties (via Wikimedia)

Prepare your fingers as the Russian-born composer of the famously challenging “Piano Concerto No. 3” is included in the 2014 public domain inductees. Reportedly Sergei Rachmaninoff was able to play such compositions due to his abnormally large hands, but likely now in the public domain many others of less formidable appendages will give them a go.

Fats Waller

Also in the music realm, jazz legend Fats Waller’s “Aint’ Misbehavin,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and other songs also enter the public domain. Although like Rachmaninoff, it will be hard for anyone to quite give them the spark he had.

Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit illustrated for Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” (via mispocky/Flickr user)

Peter Rabbit and the sinister Mr. McGregor enter the public domain through Beatrix Potter’s work, best known in her The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other anthropomorized tales.

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla in his Colorado Springs lab in 1899 (photograph by Dickenson V. Alley)

Want to try your hand at besting Edison with alternating current? The work of Serbian American electrical inventor Nikola Telsa is another to join the public domain.

Also entering the public domain is the work of Robert Antoine Pinchon, Oskar Schlemmer, George Washington-Carver, and Frida Uhl. You can find them and many more on the Public Domain Review.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

8 replies on “Happy Public Domain Day! Here’s What’s Leaving Copyright Behind in the New Year”

  1. Keep in mind that while the copyright of the actual work may end the copyright of the IMAGE or RECORDING of the work DOES NOT! It could have decades more left. Then the book or publication THAT image was in has copyright too! Basically, you will be long gone before these works are really copyright free.
    And that is the way it should be to protect the rights of the artist, the artist’s family, and partners. If the work was sold and is now owned by a company, that’s life.
    Here is the trick artists, who want to use others work, fail to do: just ask! Many artist are ok with work being referenced (just not insulted). They might even let you do it free. But with credit to the original artist, always.
    Just ask is win win. Just using or stealing is a loose loose for both.

    1. The intent of copyright was never to protect artists and their families and partners, it was created to incentivise artists to produce new work by granting them a temporary monopoly on their ideas to promote science and the useful arts.

      The original length of copyright was 14 to 28 years, but it has been extended countless times by companies like Disney, who build their fortune by using material from the public domain as the basis for their own work.

    2. “And that is the way it should be to protect the rights of the artist, the artist’s family, and partners. If the work was sold and is now
      owned by a company, that’s life.” Nonsense. First, copyright is not a natural right of an artist: it is a synthetic invention meant to — in the words of the Constitution — “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” a goal at which it is failing more and more obviously every day. And an artist’s family has no right to a work, not naturally nor under the Constitution, where right can be secured only to “Authors and Inventor” — not to heirs or assignees.

      None of the people listed above is going to be producing any more works. There is no legitimate reason for the state to point guns at people who copy these works, other than letting people who didn’t produce these things continue to profit from the work of others.

      Death to copyright. It’s past time to replace it with a right to royalties — for the creator of a work and only for the creator — on for-profit use. (See songwriter royalties for an example.)

      1. Good luck fighting a multi-billion, over one hundred years old industry. While the industries that thrive around the Federal Copyright Law have been evolving lately, specifically the music and written works, due to the digital era we live in (tablet, computers, etc), the law was created to allow creative authors, composer and publishers live of their copyrights.

        There are other industries that may benefit indirectly but royalties are the only monies paid to the copyright owners, unless they sell their works. i.e. a composer makes works to be played by Madonna (just and example). Madonna in turn may make many millions out of the copyrighted work she is authorized to creatively perform, as well as the record labels for selling the mp3 and cds. But none of that money goes to the composer or authors (there may be several of them involved). The composers and authors can authorized someone to use their work for a period of time or sell the copyrights use, but their price is minimal compare to the profits made by the buyers. Composer, authors and publishers get paid out of the billboards ranks vs royalties collected in a highly complex mechanized system.

        Now, the royalties collected and way of distribution may be a whole different subject of debate, which I think is what most people debate. A lot of people have this idea that music, i.e., should be free if you buy a cd to play in any commercial place or club. And, regardless of how we feel, that is not the way the law has tailored the market to work.

        Composers, authors, publishers, inventors, they live out of this copyright (or patent) money which may fluctuate. If the composer were to have a heart attack, why wouldn’t the succession be allowed to received the monies for the remainder of the copyright term? It is their contractual rights. After all, there are creative ways to remix ideas (everything is a remix)..

      1. Information has ownership too, and much creative work has information. To a finer point, we’re talking about originality. With excessive length of ownership, original work is not allowed to reach its full potential.

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