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Each year on 1 January, thousands of US copyrights expire, allowing creative works to enter the public domain and become free to share, copy and build upon. In the US, copyrights typically last for 95 years. That means in 2024, many new additions to the public domain were made in 1928.

This year, one of the few notable examples of visual art with an expiring copyright is a woodcut by the Dutch artist M.C. Escher titled Tower of Babel (1928) that depicts a scene of the biblical tower. The print is an early example of Escher’s interest in showing novel perspectives, which he would go on to explore in his well-known lithographs Belvedere (1958) and Waterfall (1961).

Some of the more lucrative new additions to the public domain include the original iterations of the Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters popularised by Disney. Now the mascot of the $165bn Walt Disney Company, Mickey Mouse was first introduced in the 1928 animated short film Steamboat Willie. Just days after the character entered the public domain, two new horror movies incorporating Mickey Mouse were announced. (Another classic children’s character now in the public domain is Tigger from the Winnie-the-Pooh franchise.)

Books with expiring copyrights this year include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, along with works by Agatha Christie and Robert Frost. The Harlem Renaissance was well underway in 1928, and novels from that year entering the public domain include W.E.B. Du Bois’s Dark Princess and Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem.

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