January 4, 2019

Will These New Public Domain Works Inspire Your Next Script?

More than 50,000 books, films, and musical compositions are now officially in the public domain.

New Years Day is basically Christmas for public domain enthusiasts like myself. Every year, thanks to a complicated law I won't go into here, thousands of works enter the public domain and become available for us to use. We can riff on their ideas, traditionally adapt them, and even cut them apart to use in our own works. 

These works include music, books, movies, and even artwork. 

Here is a list of some of the options that are now in the public domain:

Movies 

All these movies, including:

  • Cecil B. DeMille’s (first, less famous, silent version of) The Ten Commandments
  • Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, including that scene where he dangles off a clock tower, and his Why Worry?
  • A long line-up of feature-length silent films, including Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitalityand Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim
  • Short films by Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and Our Gang (later Little Rascals)
  • Cartoons including Felix the Cat(the character first appeared in a 1919 cartoon)
  • Marlene Dietrich’s film debut, a bit part in the German silent comedy The Little Napoleon; also the debuts of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Fay Wray

Music

All this music, including:

  • “King Porter Stomp”
  • “Who’s Sorry Now?”
  • “Tin Roof Blues”
  • “That Old Gang of Mine”
  • “Yes! We Have No Bananas”
  • “I Cried for You”
  • “The Charleston”—written to accompany, and a big factor in the popularity of, the Charleston dance
  • Igor Stravinsky’s “Octet for Wind Instruments”

Literature

All these booksand these books, including:

  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • Cane by Jean Toomer
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud
  • Towards a New Architecture by Le Corbusier
  • Whose Body?, the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Two of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Murder on the Links
  • The Prisoner, volume 5 of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (note that English translations have their own copyrights)
  • The Complete Works of Anthony Trollope
  • George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan
  • Short stories by Christie, Virginia Woolf, H.P. Lovecraft, Katherine Mansfield, and Ernest Hemingway
  • Poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay, E.E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Sukumar Ray, and Pablo Neruda
  • Works by Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, Jean Cocteau, Italo Svevo, Aldous Huxley, Winston Churchill, G.K. Chesterton, Maria Montessori, Lu Xun, Joseph Conrad, Zane Grey, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs

 Art

These artworks, including:

  • Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space
  • Henri Matisse’s Odalisque With Raised Arms
  • Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)
  • Yokoyama Taikan’s Metempsychosis
  • Work by M. C. Escher, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Ernst, and Man Ray

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