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Works entering the public domain offer the chance for a new chapter for classic works
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Works entering the public domain offer the chance for a new chapter for classic works

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The last line of Ernest Hemingway's novel "The Sun Also Rises," published in 1926, is "Isn't it pretty to think so?" While it isn't Hemingway's most famous line, it can evoke emotions in readers and inspiration in artists. 

Before this year, to use that line, or even to find other, lesser-known works published in the same year, could be incredibly difficult and expensive. But as of Jan. 1, 2022, many works that have been copyrighted for 95 years have officially entered the public domain. 

The public domain is the umbrella under which materials not protected by intellectual property rights fall, as they are free to be used and built upon by anyone. It goes beyond just literature, with around 400,000 sound recordings from before 1923 added this year, along with films and music. 

In addition to "The Sun Also Rises," literary works entering the public domain this year include "Winnie-the-Pooh" by A. A. Milne, "The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes and "Bambi, a Life in the Woods" by Felix Salten. Jazz recordings and music compositions will also be available, as well as silent films starring Buster Keaton and Greta Garbo. 

Midwest Writing Center Marketing and Program Specialist Sarah Elgatian said a lot of the works entering the public domain were a product of the Harlem Renaissance, a huge arts and cultural revival among Black Americans in major cities, centering in Harlem. To have those works freely available could be wildly impactful on contemporary education and art, she said. 

"It really helps people be exposed to these ideas and these concepts in these works, but not have to add that to their their budget at this particular point," said Moline Public Library Adult and Young Adult Services Coordinator Lisa Williams said. "And for artists to have the availability." 

Elgatian's favorite Hemingway novel is "The Sun Also Rises," so she was excited to hear about it becoming free to access. As a writer, she said having free access to art and literature allows artists to take directly from what they're inspired by and make something new out of it. That's how the world has gotten "West Side Story" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Seth Grahame-Smith.

As someone working with young writers, not having to jump through hoops to teach students about important pieces makes her work easier, and gives students the chance to learn something new. 

"For me, with 'The Sun Also Rises,' the way Hemingway dances around time passing, the way that he manipulates language such that the sentences are either totally void of adjectives or three pages long, was a huge revelation to me as a student of literature," Elgatian said. "So being able to say, 'Use my favorite writing to say what he did here that was effective, now you try it,' is a big deal." 

For those looking to learn more about copyright laws and to access public domain works, Williams said the Duke Law School Center for the Study of the Public Domain, the Library of Congress and the HathiTrust Digital Library are good places to start. The Moline Public Library, along with other local libraries, offer free Wi-Fi and access to computers for those without internet. 

While libraries provide a constant free source of analog and digital materials, Williams said there's no way they could carry hundreds of thousands of materials copyrighted almost a century ago. However, having famous works enter the public domain means they can focus efforts on providing other pieces for their patrons. 

"What I like about it as a librarian is if we can provide free public access to these treasures, that allows us to serve a lot of people in a lot of ways, but it also allows us to use our money to buy other things that are not in the public domain that will serve our patrons' interests as well," Williams said. 


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