New Year, New… Old Movies and Books?

For several decades, a work entering the public domain was a pretty mundane thing, and happened every single year. That is, before Disney decided they didn’t want anyone else to be able to make money off their works, and especially not Mickey Mouse. Tons of lobbying and new laws later, and now we had to go 21 years with nothing new entering the public domain. That is until 2019 when those protections finally started expiring.

But who cares about Copyright Laws, right? That’s all just boring legal stuff, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the real world, right? Well consider this. All of those different versions of Alice in Wonderland exist only because the copyright has expired on the original. Disney’s princess movies, like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, even Frozen, all exist because the original stories are no longer protected. Sure, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies may not have been a very good movie, but the fact that it even exists is a testament to the cool things you can do once works are no longer protected.

5 days ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby” was released to the public domain, which is notable, because the Fitzgerald estate has been famously restrictive with people using his works. Now you can make a Great Gatsby movie and make whatever character decisions you want to make. Want to make the main character a girl? Go ahead! Want to set it in a nuclear apocalypse? Do it! You don’t have to worry about paying to license the work and do whatever you want to it.

Actually I’m slightly mistaken about that. See in the United States, The Great Gatsby entered the public domain, but in Canada it’s been PD since 1991, because our laws are slightly different here. You’ve been able to legally do whatever you want with the property for 30 years now, just as long as you’re not making any money off it in America. This is the year that you can finally release those works there. In fact, there’s another work in the Public Domain in Canada you may not have expected… Mickey Mouse! That’s right, here in Canada, you can use the mouse’s likeness any way you want to, and you don’t have to fear Disney sending a Cease and Desist your way.

I’ll be honest, I’m not super familiar with most of the works entering the public domain in Canada this year, but some are notable. The Mummy movie, the one that the Brendan Fraser movie was originally based off, is PD now. Baby it’s Cold Outside is too. There really isn’t a comprehensive list of all notable works in the public domain in Canada, but since the law is just “death of the author plus 50 years,” it’s not very restrictive at all, and provided that the thing is old enough, you can probably use it. Just, you know, make sure you actually research whether or not you definitely can, and whether it’s just in Canada or everywhere.