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That copyright freedom is dependent on your geography. There’s a map detailing copyright restrictions by country on the Public Domain Day site. For much of Europe, public domain now applies to people who died in 1945, while in Canada, and several countries in Asia and Africa, it’s 1965. For the United States, well, there’s nothing new. This is thanks to legislation that made copyright retroactive by 95 years for all work made between 1923 and 1977. Unless legislation changes, there will no public domain additions in the United States until 2019.
Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain explains:
When Congress changed the law, it applied the term extension retrospectively to existing works, and gave all in-copyright works published between 1923 and 1977 a term of 95 years. The result? None of those works will enter the public domain until 2019, and works from 1958, whose arrival we might otherwise be expecting January 1, 2015, will not enter the public domain until 2054. In addition to lengthening the term, Congress also changed the law so that every creative work is automatically copyrighted, even if the author does nothing.
Nevertheless, 2015 did have some public domain victories that applied in the United States, such as the ruling that “Happy Birthday” was out of copyright. Public Domain Review has a “Class of 2016” featuring 11 cultural figures who died in 1945 or 65 whose work is going out of copyright outside of the United States, including T. S. Eliot, Le Corbusier, Paul Valéry, Malcom X, and Winston Churchill (not mentioned, Hitler, whose Mein Kapf is now out of copyright). You can also find a longer list of work entering the public domain at Wikipedia.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945)
German artist Käthe Kollwitz illuminated the hardships of the working class in her evocative paintings and prints. After losing her son in World War I, she also focused on war, her work taking on an added darkness in her German Expressionist style. The political pathos of her art later resulted in the Nazis labeling it as “degenerate.”
Le Corbusier (1887–1965)
Swiss-German Le Corbusier was one of the 20th century’s most influential architects, and a less influential painter. Using what he called his “five points of architecture,” he helped shaped the modernism of early 20th-century architecture, with wide floor plans, carefully considered ratios, white walls, and looming columns that make some of his buildings appear like landlocked ocean liners. His use of concrete would help give rise to Brutalism, and many of his buildings are still statements in their cities, from the United Nations in New York, to the simpler Villa Savoye just outside of Paris.
Emily Carr (1871–1945)
Canadian artist Emily Carr was born in British Columbia, and the aesthetic traditions of the First Nations influenced her rich paintings, as well as Modernism’s arrival in Canada. Her landscapes show nature as a powerful thing, always in movement, but the totem poles, sculpted ravens, and Haida canoes stand strong against its vast presence.
Albert Richards (1919–1945)
British artist Albert Richards died at the age of 25 when his jeep hit a land mine, yet the work he left behind as an Official War Artist remains striking. Drawing on his own experiences as a soldier in World War II, he painted and sketched the brutal energy of the battlefield, whether a monumental searchlight battery, or a group of tanks huddled anxiously in a yellow-hued landscape, awaiting their deployment to destruction.
Alexander Stirling Calder (1870–1945)
While his son would go on to greater fame for his mobiles and other sculptural work, American artist Alexander Stirling Calder was significant in his own right. You can see his depiction of George Washington on the Washington Square Arch in New York City, as well as his work on the Swann Memorial Fountain in his Philadelphia hometown. As the leader of sculpture at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, his realistic approach also influenced the wider visual culture in the country.
Milena Pavlović-Barili (1909–1945)
Serbian artist Milena Pavlović-Barili may not be a widely-known name, but the painter had a unique and haunting style that combined a personal symbolism with a sense of fantasy, mixing ideas from surrealism, as well as religion, traditional femininity, and visuals from art history. She moved to New York in 1939, leaving Europe with the eruption of World War II, and died suddenly in a horse riding accident in 1945. With her work now in the public domain in Europe, perhaps it may receive renewed attention, or at least get her a flashier Wikipedia page.
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