Worth the Wait: New Books Entering the Public Domain

Jan 20, 2023 | Posted by Jennifer

At the turn of every new year, long awaited classic books and media enter the public domain. This year is no different, and there are some wonderful additions that have joined the list. But there was a bit of a detour before they could be released. This blog post shares a bit of why that happened and also enumerates some of the best titles that are finally available and ready to delight a new generation of readers.

In 1998 a notable bill was signed into law. Informally known as the Copyright Term Extension Act, the new law significantly lengthened copyright protections of certain types of intellectual property, among those, books. Previously, copyright laws lasted for the life of the author plus fifty years or one hundred years from the piece’s creation, whichever was shorter. Once the bill was signed, however, the new law extended protections another twenty years.* Essentially, this froze in place the release of books and other works, forcing a halt on anything entering the public domain until 2019.

Books and other materials that are in the public domain can be freely copied and distributed. Typically that means public domain materials can be accessed digitally for free through websites such as Project Gutenberg, can be copied for personal or classroom use, or can be purchased in print for relatively low prices since royalties are no longer being paid out. Works in the public domain can also be adapted and used in new material. Permission is not needed.

The year 2019 finally opened the stopper on public domain releases to the especial delight of classic book lovers. This year there are some fabulous additions to the growing body of public domain materials. A few titles that fascinate mystery fans young and old are the first three books in Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys series: The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, and The Secret of the Old Mill.

Older mystery lovers will be thrilled to learn that the remaining pieces of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection featuring Sherlock Holmes are now in the public domain as well. While many were already available, his final two stories from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” and “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” complete the collection.

Many parents as well as their children have happy memories of Margaret Wise Brown’s charming picture book Goodnight Moon being read to them before bed. As of 2023 it too has entered the public domain, so now a whole new generation of children will be able to enjoy this gorgeous classic at a fraction of the cost if not for free.

Another delightful children’s book to enter the public domain this year is A.A. Milne’s Now We Are Six, a collection of children’s poetry. In 2022 Milne’s famous book about the lovable bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, officially entered public domain as well. While Now We Are Six includes Pooh in a couple of the poems, Milne writes this in his introduction to the book: “P.S. Pooh wants us to say that he thought it was a different book; and he hopes you won’t mind, but he walked through it one day, looking for his friend Piglet, and sat down on some of the pages by mistake.” Milne has a lovely way of inviting the listener or reader to imagine Pooh there beside Milne, helping him to put the poems to the page. In case you’re curious, Piglet is absent.

There are many other books that have entered the public domain in 2023. Some of the more recognizable authors’ pieces include these titles.

  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • The Big Four by Agatha Christie
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  • Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster

As each new year opens, more pieces enter the public domain. Next year marks a significant entry into the public domain world: Mickey Mouse will officially become public domain. However, because Mickey Mouse is trademarked, only the first image of the famous mouse, as projected in the film Steamboat Willie, will be able to be freely used by the public.


* Actual copyright law and the laws governing public domain are more nuanced than are mentioned in this blog post, but the basics are described.

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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