Public domain is the gateway to the Internet, Clueless, and Disney fairytales. On January 1, 2019, hundreds of thousands of books, musical scores, artwork, and films will finally lose copyright protections and enter public domain.
After New Year's Eve, every author, filmmaker, artist, and podcast host will be free to use and distribute a deluge of creative material being added public domain.
New Year's Day will mark the first mass expiration of copyrighted material in 21 years. At midnight, all works published in the U.S. in 1923 will enter public domain, including iconic works like Robert Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," Charlie Chaplin's The Pilgrim, and Cecil B. DeMillle's The Ten Commandments.
It's a long-awaited windfall for art-lovers and advocates who see the public domain as "our shared cultural heritage, a near limitless trove of creativity that...forms the building blocks of culture." But to the average consumer, public domain is the gateway to the internet—truly, since CERN released the World Wide Web technology into the public domain 25 years ago (apparently April 30 is the Internet's birthday). Wikipedia is allowed to re-use images from the public domain, and classic literature is translated into foreign languages under open rights of the public. Filmmakers are also allowed to create adaptations of classics, turning Jane Austen's novel Emma (1815) into the movie Clueless (1995) and re-imagining the Brothers Grimm fairy tales (1812-15) into modern Disney cartoons.
Of course, art only enters the public domain when its copyright expires. More restrictive than other modernized countries, copyright laws in the U.S. are a patchwork of major studios' attempts to maintain exclusive rights to profitable material and outdated laws that are being updated too slowly for some material to be protected. For instance, the 1998 Sonny Bono Act effectively froze copyright expirations for 20 years and ceased early century material from entering the public domain. In fact, that law, named after the entertainer-slash-congressman who co-sponsored the bill at the time of his death, is also mocked as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act," since it mainly preserved the Disney icon from entering public domain until 2024. What materials get released is further complicated by disputes over ownership and whether or not those owners filed to renew their rights in time.
But as of January 1, 2019, hundreds of thousands of books, musical scores, artwork, and films will lose copyright protections en masse for the first time since 1998, and with the Sonny Bono Act expired, subsequent New Years should bring similar releases of material. In response, Google Books is already primed to release the digitized materials with full text available. Creative Commons, that massive online repository you turned to in school for better clip art, is hosting an actual celebration along with the Internet Archive, declaring that "a devastating 20 year drought" of new material is over. Jessica Silbey, the co-director of Northeastern University's Center for Law, Innovation, and Creativity, told Motherboard, "The public domain of course is the default for creativity and innovation. Celebrating the return of a yearly expansion of the public domain is the appropriate response."
Here's a sample of what creators will freely be able to access, use, and redistribute:
The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud
New Hampshire by Robert Frost
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Tulips and Chimneys by E.E. Cummings
Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
Cane by Jean Toomer
A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton
The World Crisis by Winston Churchill
The Pilgrim and A Woman of Paris by Charlie Chaplin
The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille
Our Hospitality by Buster Keaton and John G. Blystone
Safety Last! by Harold Lloyd
Felix the Cat cartoons
"Charleston" by Cecil Mack and James P. Johnson
"King Porter Stomp" by Jelly Roll Morton
"Yes! We Have No Bananas" by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn
"London Calling!" (musical) by Noel Coward
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.