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For those in need of a refresher, Public Domain Day marks the date when copyright expires on the works of authors, artists, and creators who died a certain number of years ago, thus entering those works into the public domain and making them freely available for others to use, adapt, and transform. This only applies in countries where the law stipulates a “life plus 70 years” copyright term, which includes most of South America, Russia, Australia, and almost all of Europe. In the US, on the other hand, pretty much nothing new will enter the public domain until at least 2019, because of our intense copyright laws. (You can see a world map of copyright laws and length here.)
So whose work is being freed up this year? The Public Domain Review has compiled a brief list, along with a cute graduation class photo they made (see above), of some of the most notable people. Among them are:
Grant Wood, the painter of “American Gothic,” which is such a ubiquitous image it’s hard to believe it’s not already in the public domain;
Walter Sickert, the German-born, British-raised artist who painted grimy scenes of everyday life in turn-of-the-century England, and whose painting of a bedroom supposedly inhabited by Jack the Ripper made some writers decades later suspect that Sickert himself was Jack the Ripper;
Polish writer and artist Bruno Schulz, whose book The Street of Crocodiles has already been famously adapted by the Quay Brothers, and who was protected for a time by a Nazi Gestapo officer who hired Schulz to paint a mural in his house;
And A.E. Waite, co-creator of the popular Rider-Waite tarot deck and author of the guide Key to the Tarot.