In the United States, we celebrated Thanksgiving Day yesterday. Many of us ate the traditional turkey and stuffing with some cranberry sauce while sharing our heritage and food with relatives and friends.

Another great day is coming in just about a month. Yes, there is Christmas; that will be nice, too, but this year I plan to celebrate Public Domain Day on January 1, 2010. The celebration has been going on for a few years, but this will be the first time for me.

January first is the day, each year, when the works of some authors enter the public domain. Their works become officially a part of our cultural heritage in a way that makes them open for use, and not hampered by restrictions. The terms of copyright expire and give us the opportunity to remix and build upon the works of those who have gone before us. Building on the heritage of our shared culture is the key element, I think. Public domain status certainly also means that individuals get the first legal opportunity to simply copy a work. That’s great, but not the equal of making something new that wasn’t legal before.

Hey, if you are in the mood, not too overcome by the other associated activities of New Year’s Eve, join in the fun. Get a group together. Put up some signs in the town square. Wave to the drivers as they go by. Have a party. Celebrate Public Domain Day this year.

All is not completely rosy, though, for the time being, in the U.S. there is a freeze on release of works under copyright that goes all the way back to 1922. This is the result of the U.S. Congress extending copyright to “life of author + 70 years” instead of the more common (and former U.S. term) of  “life of author + 50 years”.  So U.S. citizens can only celebrate in a generic way. Our country isn’t going to actually have any works enter the public domain this year, or indeed until January 1, 2019, apparently, because of the law’s change of term.

As a citizen of the world, though, I’ll still celebrate our common, shared cultural heritage.

Links that might give you ideas and support for planning y0ur celebration.

Wikipedia article on the public domain:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain

A Logo from the celebration planned in Poland:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Publicdomaindaylogo.svg

List of works entering the public domain from the Open Knowledge Foundation:
http://blog.okfn.org/2009/11/25/which-works-fall-into-the-public-domain-in-2010/

The first copyright law (The Copyright Act gave protection for a period of 14 years, with the right of renewal for another 14 years.):
http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/firsts/copyright/

The story of copyright:
http://www.edwardsamuels.com/ILLUSTRATEDSTORY/index.htm

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