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The Best Things in Life Are Free: New public domain properties for 2023

    mickey mouse to become public domain

    As we usher in the new year, publishers can get their hands on public domain properties each year. This year has an interesting cast of new public domain offerings that include Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in Steamboat Willie. It remains to be seen if anybody will challenge Walt Disney on this one. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has been in and out of the public domain since 1955. The Tower Treasure (the first Hardy Boys book) becomes the first book of the series to enter the public domain. Another Winnie the Pooh book enters the public domain after last year’s first book in 2022. Disney lawyers are sure to get busy this year. Below are some of the main heavyweights going into the public domain.


    • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
    • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes
    • Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
    • Countee Cullen, Copper Sun
    • A. A. Milne, Now We Are Six, illustrations by E. H. Shepard
    • Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
    • Ernest Hemingway, Men Without Women (a collection of short stories)
    • William Faulkner, Mosquitoes
    • Agatha Christie, The Big Four
    • Edith Wharton, Twilight Sleep
    • Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York (the original 1927 publication)
    • Franklin W. Dixon (pseudonym), The Tower Treasure (the first Hardy Boys book)
    • Hermann Hesse, Der Steppenwolf (in the original German)
    • Franz Kafka, Amerika (in the original German)
    • Marcel Proust, Le Temps retrouvé (the final installment of In Search of Lost Time, in the original French)


    • Metropolis (directed by Fritz Lang)
    • The Jazz Singer (the first feature-length film with synchronized dialogue; directed by Alan Crosland)
    • Wings (winner of the first Academy Award for outstanding picture; directed by William A. Wellman)
    • Sunrise (directed by F.W. Murnau)
    • The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock’s first thriller)
    • The King of Kings (directed by Cecil B. DeMille)
    • London After Midnight (now a lost film; directed by Tod Browning)
    • The Way of All Flesh (now a lost film; directed by Victor Fleming)
    • 7th Heaven (inspired by the ending of the 2016 film La La Land; directed by Frank Borzage)
    • The Kid Brother (starring Harold Lloyd; directed by Ted Wilde)
    • The Battle of the Century (starring the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy; directed by Clyde Bruckman)
    • Upstream (directed by John Ford)


    • The Best Things in Life Are Free (George Gard De Sylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson; from the musical Good News)
    • (I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream (Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, Robert A. King)
    • Puttin’ on the Ritz (Irving Berlin)
    • Funny Face and ’S Wonderful (Ira and George Gershwin; from the musical Funny Face)
    • Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and Ol’ Man River (Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern; from the musical Show Boat)
    • Back Water BluesPreaching the BluesFoolish Man Blues (Bessie Smith)
    • Potato Head BluesGully Low Blues (Louis Armstrong)
    • Rusty Pail BluesSloppy Water BluesSoothin’ Syrup Stomp (Thomas Waller)
    • Black and Tan Fantasy and East St. Louis Toodle-O (Bub Miley, Duke Ellington)
    • Billy Goat StompHyena StompJungle Blues (Ferdinand Joseph Morton)
    • My Blue Heaven (George Whiting, Walter Donaldson)
    • Diane (Erno Rapee, Lew Pollack)
    • Mississippi Mud (Harry Barris, James Cavanaugh)

    For all of the works listed above, only the original works published in 1927 are entering the US public domain. Later versions of them—adaptations, movies, or translations—may still be copyrighted. However, those copyrights only cover newly added creative material. The original content from the 1927 book remains free. So the version of Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York published in 1927 is in the public domain, but new material in subsequent versions, translations into other languages, and Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film are still copyrighted.

    Tony M.