January 1 marks the day when copyrights to certain works expire in the United States, as well as in other countries around the world. Under the United States Copyright Term Extension Act, books, movies and other works released or published in 1927 enter the public domain this year.
What does this mean for you?
When something enters the public domain, anyone can legally use or reference those works without permission. That means these beloved works are now freely available to build on, revise or use for new publications without needing permission from the estate or original copyright owner. You are free to riff, record and publish new interpretations and use all these works word-for-word to your heart’s content. I’m especially excited about the new rush of films that are now free and open to everyone!
Super Cool Silent Films
Internet Archivists and YouTubers rejoice! Some of the smash-hit films of the silent era are finally free! I am a huge fan of early filmmaking and, as a Clara Bow admirer, some of her iconic roles are finally available to watch and post online. Bow became one of the faces of the decade in her 1927 release, It, which propelled viewers to the movie houses to watch Children of Divorce, Hula and Get Your Man. The year also marked one of Bow’s best-known roles in the film Wings—the first movie to win what would become the Academy Award for best picture. Clara Bow’s body of work that year became some of the strongest in her acting career. Another film on her roster, Rough House Rosie, was also released in 1927 and, while out of copyright, is considered one of the lost films of the era.
Films Lost to Time
A staggering number of early films have become lost to time. In addition to Clara Bow’s 1927 Rough House Rosie, another lost title is London After Midnight, a silent mystery horror movie starring Lon Chaney. Sadly, London After Midnight was destroyed in the 1965 MGM vault fire, along with hundreds of other rare and early films. From the newspaper reviews and magazine articles, the plot involves vampires suspected of committing a series of murders. The movie was last seen in the 1950s, so a byplay of the plot is fuzzy at best. Where production stills and posters survive, they sadly do not replace the original. And why would MGM only have one copy? Really? Keep an eye out for this film while browsing through garage and estate sales. You just might find a lost horror classic!
Also joining public domain land this year are notable films Metropolis, The Jazz Singer, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller), Chicago (later adapted into the Broadway musical and movie), The King of Kings (directed by Cecil B. DeMille), Tarzan and the Golden Lion, Casey at the Bat, When Boys Leave Home, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Battle of the Century (starring comedy legends Laurel and Hardy), Upstream (directed by John Ford) and comedy star Harold Lloyd’s classic The Kid Brother.
More to Enjoy
If you’re looking for a larger-than-life early film experience, we are hosting an upcoming movie night with Chicago Silent Film Society organist Jay Warren on Thursday, May 18, at 6:30 p.m. in Meeting Room A. Attendees can enjoy free popcorn and Jay’s live musical accompaniment for Douglas Fairbanks’ adventure film The Iron Mask. This is a drop-in event with no registration required!
Want to learn more about Public Domain releases this year? Check out a great article posted by Smithsonian Magazine!
See You At The Library!