For the first time in over 20 years, on January 1, 2019, published works will enter the US public domain.1 Works from 1923 will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee. They include dramatic films such as The Ten Commandments, and comedies featuring Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. There are literary works by Robert Frost, Aldous Huxley, and Edith Wharton, the “Charleston” song, and more. And remember, this has not happened for over 20 years. Why? Works from 1923 were set to go into the public domain in 1999, after a 75-year copyright term. But in 1998 Congress hit a two-decade pause button and extended their copyright term for 20 years, giving works published between 1923 and 1977 an expanded term of 95 years.
Buster Keaton rules. It’s that simple. Charlie Chaplin may get more press (even a century later), but people familiar with Keaton’s work know how remarkably talented he was at his silent acting craft. This is one of the most notable films from 1923 now in the public domain, one that he co-directed with John G. Blystone and that Jim Emerson called “Keaton’s first feature as auteur and his first masterpiece.” Keaton plays Willie McKay in a film that broke new ground for the silent comedy era in the way it integrated its slapstick humor into the narrative instead of merely presenting “bits” to entertain the paying customers.
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