Wikipedia celebrates Public Domain Day on 1st January

  • December 31, 2009

31 December 2009, UK

What do Howard Carter, discoverer of the famed tomb of King Tutankhamen, novelist Ford Madox Ford, and sexologist Havelock Ellis all share in common? They all died in 1939. On New Year’s Day 2010 all their works enter the public domain in the UK and become free for any use.

Each year the opening of Public Records in Britain is a well-publicised event; the press pore over interesting items replacing decades-old speculation with facts. There is a lesser-known addition to Britain’s cultural commons; all authors and artists who died seventy years ago have their work freed of copyright restrictions. In the digital age, their works can be re-used and adapted in many more ways: paintings can be reproduced and turned into new artwork; novels can be adapted and retold; text can be freely downloaded to e-book readers – a best selling item this Christmas – and anyone can create audio versions.

Creative works in the public domain are the backbone of our rich cultural heritage. Nursery rhymes are adapted for modern themes, fairy tales turned into Hollywood blockbusters and hymns reprinted for church congregations to sing. The addition of new creative works to this heritage renews and reinvigorates our culture.

Wikimedia UK anticipates January 1, “Public Domain Day”, 2010 being a great year for additions to the digital Wikimedia Commons. The poetry of W. B. Yeats, the works of Sigmund Freud, and Arthur Rackham‘s classic children’s book illustrations all enter the public domain. When the complexities of copyright no longer encumber reuse of old works, a work that has been a “sleeper” can become a new classic. Perhaps the definitive example of this is “It’s a Wonderful Life“, the 1946 Frank Capra film that became a Christmas classic in the 1980s.

Wikimedia UK promotes the uploading of copyright-free text to Wikisource, a sister site to Wikipedia, so that it can be widely enjoyed. Audio recordings of public domain works may be added to the Wikimedia Commons site, and Wikimedia UK invites you to join us and help digitise and preserve our common cultural heritage. You can make it available for everyone to share, build on, and simply enjoy.


Copyright law:

Please note that Wikimedia UK does not give legal advice. Information on copyright law and public domain can be found in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as amended by the The Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995.

About Wikipedia:

Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website with 345 million visitors worldwide. Read by around 40% of UK web users, it is operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, a US charity. Wikipedia is collaboratively written by over 100,000 active volunteers world wide and all material is published under a free license.

About Wikisource:

Wikisource is a repository of free texts (literary, reference and general), and is a sister project to Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. It was started on 24 November 2003, and is operated by the Wikimedia Foundation.

About Wikimedia Commons:

Wikimedia Commons is a free image and media file repository, and is another sister project to Wikipedia. It was started on 7 September 2004 and currently hosts more than 5 million images. UK works are accepted if they are released by the copyright owners under an eligible free license or if they are in the public domain under both US and UK law.

About the Wikimedia Foundation:

The Wikimedia Foundation Inc. is the US-based non-profit organisation that operates some of the largest collaboratively-edited reference projects in the world. These include Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

About Wikimedia UK:

Wikimedia UK is an independent organisation that supports free and open knowledge throughout the United Kingdom, including promoting and supporting Wikipedia and its sister projects.

Further information:
Contact details:

Michael Peel, Chair, Wikimedia UK

Andrew Turvey, Secretary, Wikimedia UK

6 thoughts on “Wikipedia celebrates Public Domain Day on 1st January”

    1. Update on Yeats:

      Many of his works are already public domain in the US because they were published pre-1923. Wikisource has a collection at

      Although all of Yeats’ work is now PD in the UK, some of it is still under copyright in the US, which is the law that wikisource applies. This applies to:

      (a) works published in the US between 1923-63 where a “renewal notice” has been registered
      (b) works published between 1964-77

      These will become PD 95 years after publication. Full details at

      We have focussed on “New Poems” which was published in 1938 in Dublin. It was either not published at all in the US or published before 1963 with no renewal notice.

      The full text is now up at

      I’ve also compiled a “book” giving all the poems plus some background information from Wikipedia. This is at

      Now onto Freud!

  1. Other coverage:

    Telegraph: Popeye’s copyright to expire in January (

    And: WB Yeats and Sigmund Freud works posted on Wikipedia as copyright expires ( (including quotes from me)

    Stanford University: Happy Public Domain Day – January 1, 2009 – new additions to unpublished public domain in the U.S.

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