Tag Archives: public domain

Public Domain Day Short Film Contest Highlights Works of 1925

A still from the winning submission Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), featuring actress Greta Garbo.

Filmmakers responded with enthusiasm and creativity to a call from the Internet Archive to make short films using newly available content from 1925 in celebration of Public Domain Day. They discovered a new freedom in being able to remix film clips with Greta Garbo, magazine covers with flappers, and sheet music from standards like “Sweet Georgia Brown” – all downloadable for free and reusable without restriction.

For the contest, vintage images and sounds were woven into films of 2-3 minutes that conveyed a sense of whimsy, nostalgia, and humor. While some were abstract and others educational, they all showcased ingenuity and possibility when materials are openly available to the public.

 “The Internet Archive has spent  24 years collecting and archiving content from around the world…now is the time to see what people can do with it,” said Amir Saber Esfahani, director of special arts projects at the Internet Archive. He was a judge in the December short-film contest along with Carey Hott, professor of art and design at the University of San Francisco, and Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive.

The judges reviewed 23 entries and chose a winner based on creativity, variety of 1925 content (including lists of all sources), and fit for the event (fun, interesting and captivating). These new creative works may also be available for reuse, as indicated by the license term selected by the creator.

First place: Danse des Aliénés

Joshua Curry, a digital artist from San Jose, won first place for his submission, Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), in which he layers pieces of film on three panes with images rising and falling music to “Dance Macabre” (Dance of Death) performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The format was inspired by the poem dramatized in triptych in the short film In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea.  His creation included flashes of Greta Garbo, ghosts from Koko Sees Spooks and colorful designs flowing in and out of the frames.

Curry, who has been making experimental videos since the 1980s, says the project was a perfect fit for his artist techniques, where he likes to stress and transform film in new ways. His film had a glitchy, broken feel that is in line with the aesthetic he often uses (See his other work at lucidbeaming.com.)

“I wanted it to be evocative and for people to appreciate it as a stand-alone piece of art,” says Curry, 49. “My visual goal was to produce something challenging that a wide variety of people could connect to – despite being mostly abstract and sourced from 95-year-old content.”

Filmmaker Joshua Curry.

While Curry’s studio is modern and full of electronic equipment, working with the 1925 content and hearing music with cartoonish voices making novelty, popping sounds their cheeks was a welcome break. “One day when I was choosing the music, I was driving around the city listening to songs and felt like I was transported back in time,” Curry says.

He says it was also a pleasure to have easy access to the public domain content without commercial gatekeeping or legal obstacles, which he often encounters with digital material he wants to remix. As it happens, Curry just completed a class in multimedia copyright. He says he works hard to operate within the rules because he wants his video creations to survive online and not be taken down because of copyright infringement allegations.

Having the works for this project in the public domain meant less time trying to get the content and more time to focus on the creative process. “It was like being a little kid who was told he couldn’t have cake and then one day saying: ‘Dive in!’,” Curry said of the access to the 1925 material in the Internet Archive.

Receiving the contest’s top honors was particularly meaningful, says Curry, because he works in Silicon Valley where the Internet Archive has “great nerd cred” and is a library that people revere.

“I was proud to win with weirdness,” Curry says. “My piece was abstract, without narration or titles, and an authentic tribute to the pioneering work of the experimental films I made use of.”

To learn more about Curry’s inspirations and to hear from him directly, watch the director’s commentary that was captured during the Public Domain Day event.

Second place: Vanishing Ink

Second place went to Alaro Brandon for Vanishing Ink, a film with a montage of clips from 16 movies including The Last Laugh and Hold My Baby and four songs: “Norwegian Dances,” “Song of the Vagabonds,” “I Want to be Happy” and “Hawaiian Ripples.”

Third place: Fashion of the 1920s

Arden Spivack-Teather, 12, and Sissel Ramierz, 13, both of San Francisco, won third place for their short film, Fashion of the 1920s. It traces the evolution of women’s clothing from tight-fitting styles that required corsets to drop-waisted, loose dresses popularized by flappers. “Women could finally be chic and comfortable at the same time,” the film notes. “Every time you notice a fabulous flowing frock, thank the 20s.”

Watch Fashion of the 1920s.

Arden found out about the contest through her mom, Cari Spivack, a staff member at the Internet Archive, and decided to partner with her friend, Sissel, a classmate since kindergarten who she had collaborated with for a winning science fair project in fifth grade. On Zoom and FaceTime, the girls looked through old McCalls magazines and decided to focus on the changing style of women’s clothing.

From left, filmmakers Arden Spivack-Teather and Sissel Ramirez.

“It was really fun to use our creativity and find things that would look good together,” said Arden, who had never before made a film. Although the research, script and editing were a challenge, she says she hopes to do it again.

Spivack said she enjoyed seeing her daughter explore the material in the Archive, giggling and musing at the kitchen table about the tonics and ads she discovered. “It was exactly what I was hoping would happen — that they would be gripped by fascination of a time period that was long gone. They could travel back and learn on their own, paging through a magazine just like someone their age would have in 1925.”

The diversity of approaches people had with the films was impressive, added Spivack.

“It’s a good introduction to what can be done with old materials. You can use them to learn and to educate others. Or you can reuse them to make something that’s completely unexpected or never seen before,” Spivack said. “As archivists everything is important. But you don’t know why until you see what it can turn into or what it informs in the future.”

Honorable mentions

  • Yo Hey Look! by Adam Dziesinski, which pieced together film clips where something caught an actor’s eye, from a baby in a wicker stroller to a woman with a bob haircut dancing to a man in a Bowler hat laughing.
  • Michaela Giles made a time-lapse film of her using oil pastels, pencils, paints, and pens to draw a profile of a woman gracing the front of a vintage publication in 1925 Magazine Cover Recreation.
  • Public Domain Day by Subhashish Panigrahi explained the basics of how copyright works with text interspersed with cartoon clips, colorful paintings, and magazine covers.
  • 25 Dad Jokes from 1925 by Anirvan Chatterjee was a compilation of jokes gathered from vintage middle school and high school yearbooks from Iowa, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, California.  Among the corny humor: “Why is the ocean so angry? It’s been crossed too many times,” and “What are the three most often words used in school? I don’t know.”

The films were shown at the December 17 Public Domain Day virtual party, where the creators were asked to discuss their projects in breakout room discussions. You can view a livestream of the event here.

Internet Archive Celebrates Public Domain Day

Leaders in the open world, intellectual property & social justice came together with hundreds of supporters to celebrate the works moving into the public domain in January 2021. Livestream available.

Professor Kevin J. Greene offered an “Ode to the Public Domain” during last week’s Public Domain Day celebration. Watch the full stream now.

The Internet Archive celebrated the upcoming release of works created in 1925 for unrestricted use, from the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic The Great Gatsby, at a virtual party December 17.

The gathering marked Public Domain Day, January 1, when copyright will be lifted from an array of movies, books, and other works of art produced 85 years ago. A quartet played a medley of songs that will enter the public domain in 2021; the winning entry of a short film contest was shown, paying tribute to works from 1925; and a panel of copyright experts and open advocates discussed today’s information sharing landscape. Watch the celebration now on the captured livestream.

“Why openness? To make the world more equitable, promote social justice, and to find answers in times of pandemic,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “Public domain gives freedom to enjoy, freedom to share, freedom to fly. It is the gold standard of openness.”

A robust public domain is essential for the future free knowledge, said Katherine Maher, chief executive officer of the Wikimedia Foundation and guest panelist. More than just artifacts of the past (old movies, painting, and books), the public domain includes government works, 3D models of asteroids, and massive data sets to help people better understand the world.

 “We all benefit when work enters the public domain and when people choose to dedicate things to the common good – whether it’s art or research or data,” Maher said. “When these works become available for public access and use, everyone can participate in culture and knowledge and we can begin to address vast inequities.”

The recent release by the Smithsonian of nearly three million images and data into public domain was a “big win,” noted Catherine Stihler, chief executive officer of Creative Commons. However, the community needs to remain vigilant.

“We still have to fight the good fight and push back against misguided proposals to extend copyright and ways that lock up our shared cultural heritage,” Stihler said.  

We all benefit when work enters the public domain and when people choose to dedicate things to the common good – whether it’s art or research or data…

Katherine Maher, Wikimedia Foundation

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) said the fastest development of a vaccine in history demonstrates the value of open.

“Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right,” Joseph said. “There has never been a moment in time when the need to promote and protect our ability to quickly and freely share science has been more urgent…For all darkness of 2020, to witness this amazing progress powered by openness has provided some really welcome light.”

The public domain was designed to empower everyone – regardless of economic or political status – to give access to knowledge and all of its building blocks from data to facts, ideas to theories to scientific principles, said Joseph.

Still, there is a history of copyright being used to exploit African Americans and other marginalized communities, as opposed to a tool of benefit and empowerment, said Lateef Mtima, professor of law at Howard University School of Law, and founder and director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice.

“For the intellectual property system to work properly, it has to adhere to social justice obligations, principles of equitable able access, inclusion and empowerment for everyone,” said Mtima. “The way we get to create new works is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be exposed to as many works as possible in the first place, because then they become inspired to produce new work.”

The Public Domain Day celebration reflects a positive inflection point in the social justice trajectory of copyright. With digital technology, there is a way to make the rich harvest of public materials available to everyone. But in order to do this, Mtima emphasized the need for broad societal investment in conquering the digital divide.

Amplifying some of the inequities, Kevin Green, chair and professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, shared an “Ode to the Public Domain” that he wrote for the event. 

As part of the celebration, Amir Saber Esfahani announced the winner of the Public Domain Day Short Film contest: Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), an entry that incorporated music and images into a video collage paying tribute to works of 1925.

“A Toast to the Pubic Domain” by Martin Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Libraries & Archives. Watch the livestream now.

Wrapping up the evening, Kyle K. Courtney, a copyright lawyer and librarian at Harvard, mixed a Gin Rickey, a cocktail mentioned in The Great Gatsby. Then, Martin Kalfatovic, associate director of digital programs at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, offered a toast:

“Here’s to the progress of science and the useful arts, the explosion of creativity remixed in multiple formats. And as the new year passes again and again, we replenish the cup of our public domain.”

Added Kahle: “Public Domain Day is a fabulous holiday that should be enshrined forever. Long live the public domain and the community that supports it.”

A full livestream of the event is available for viewing.

January 1st brings public domain riches from 1925

On January 1st, 2021, many books, movies and other media from 1925 will enter the public domain in the United States. Some of them are quite famous — jump ahead to see lists of those well known books and movies that you can enjoy on the Internet Archive — or take the scenic route with me.

Book cover: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

What does this all mean? Essentially, many items created in 1925 in the US that are still under copyright will become free and open for people to use in any way they see fit in the new year. But check out Duke Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain article for a more in-depth explanation.

We have a party every year to celebrate the new works entering the public domain, and this year is no exception. Join us on Thursday, Dec. 17th to toast these newly available additions.

Traveling from Home

As part of this yearly ritual, I explore our collections to unearth these newly freed items, and I invariably run across a few things that hit a nerve. This year, it started with this intertitle in “Isn’t Life Terrible?” Less than 20 seconds into this 1925 film, and suddenly I’m dumped back into 2020.

Silent film intertitle that reads, "Charley Chase as The poor young man with only two places to go -- Front yard and back yard"

Rude, right? I don’t even have a front yard to enjoy during shelter in place.

But the magic of media is that it can transport us to different places and times. Photo books like Picturesque Italy, Picturesque Mexico, and Picturesque Palestine, Arabia and Syria show us both how much and how little has changed in the past 95 years.

Screen shot thumbnail images from the book Picturesque Italy. The 12+ photos feature tourist sites in Venice, Italy like the Doges Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and Piazza San Marco.

Gondolas still glide under the Bridge of Sighs, and the Tower of Pisa is still leaning, but the 1925 version of the Colosseum certainly lacks today’s fake gladiator photo ops.

Looking at the past with the eyes of today

Every toe dipped into the past has the potential to surprise or shock. The story of a pantry shelf, an outline history of grocery specialties is only mildly interesting on the surface. Essentially, it’s a sales pitch to food manufacturers encouraging them to advertise in a set of women’s magazines. The book contains short case histories of successful food brands like Maxwell House Coffee, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, etc. (all of whom advertise with them, naturally).

The book gives you a glimpse of why people were so enthusiastic about mass produced, packaged foods. Unsanitary conditions, bugs in your sugar, milk going bad over night; things modern shoppers never think about.

It puts this glowing praise of Kraft Cheese into perspective: “…a pasteurized product, blended to obtain a uniformity of quality and flavor, a thing greatly lacking in ordinary types of cheese.” (page 149)

That’s pretty entertaining if you’re a cheese lover. I think most people would agree that Kraft cheese is no longer on the cutting edge.

But keep poking around and you find a much deeper cultural divergence. While The story of a pantry shelf is extolling the virtues of the home economics training available at Cornell, you stumble across this horrifying sentence (page 12).

Passage from "The Story of a Pantry Shelf" which reads, "Indeed, the Practice House, where students learn housekeeping in its every phase, even includes the complete care of a baby, adopted each year by Cornell for the benefit of these 'mothers' who, under the direction of trained Home Economics women, feed, bathe, dress and tend an infant from the tender age of two weeks throughout the session."

I was not expecting to read about orphaned babies being used as “learning aids” while flipping through stories about Jell-O. Intellectually, I know that attitudes towards children have changed over the years — the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set federal standards for child labor, wasn’t even passed until 1938. But this casual aside tossed in amongst the marketing hype still packs an emotional punch. It’s important to remember how far we have come.

Even writing that was forward-thinking for the time, like the booklet Homo-sexual life, is terribly backward according to today’s standards. It’s from the Little Blue Book series — we have many that were published in 1925, and the publisher was quite prolific for many years. The series provided working class people with inexpensive access to all kinds of topics including philosophy, sexuality, science, religion, law, and government. Post WWII, they published criticism of J. Edgar Hoover and the founder was subsequently targeted by the FBI for tax evasion. But in 1925, they were going strong and one of their prolific writers was Clarence Darrow.

Controversies of the Age

Darrow was writing about prohibition for the Little Blue Book series in 1925, but that is also the year he defended John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in his Tennessee classroom. The Scopes Trial generated a huge amount of publicity, pitting religion against science, and even giving rise to popular songs like these two 78rpm recordings from 1925.

The John T. Scopes Trial (The Old Religion’s Better After All) by Vernon Dalhart and Company

Monkey Biz-ness (Down in Tennessee) by International Novelty Orchestra with Billy Murray


Like the Scopes trial, prohibition had its passionate adherents and detractors. This was the “Roaring 20s” — the year The Great Gatsby was published — with speakeasies and flappers and iconic cocktails. And yet the pro-prohibition silent film Episodes in the Life of a Gin Bottle follows a bottle around as it lures people into a state of dissolution.

We even see an entire book about throwing parties that includes no alcoholic beverages at all.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

But as much as some things have changed, other aspects of our lives remain unchanged. People still want to tell you about their pets, rely on self help books, read stories to their kids, follow celebrities, tell each other jokes, and make silly videos.

And the most unchanging part of this particular season, of course — children still anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus with questions, wishes and schemes.

The silent film Santa Claus features two children who want to know where Saint Nick lives and how he spends his time. We follow him to the North Pole (Alaska in disguise) to see Santa’s workshop, snow castle, reindeer, and friends and neighbors. Jack Frost, introduced around 14:20, appears to be wearing the prototype for Ralphie’s bunny suit in “A Christmas Story” (but with a magic wand). Stick around for the sleigh crash at 20:45, and right around 22:20 Santa wipes out on the ice.

And just in case you’re still doing your holiday shopping, I feel like I should pass on a recommendation from this ad in a 1925 The Billboard magazine: Armadillo Baskets make beautiful Christmas gifts. And you can still buy vintage versions online – trust me, I looked. You’re welcome.

Advertisement with a picture of an armadillo and a basket made from an armadillo. Text reads, "Armadillo Baskets Make Beautiful Christmas Gifts. From these nine-banded horn-shelled little animals we make beautiful baskets. We are the original dealers in Armadillo Baskets. We take their shells, polish them, and then line with silk. They make ideal work baskets, etc. Let us tell you about these unique baskets. Write for Free Booklet. Apelt Armadillo Co., Comfort, Texas."

The Famous Stuff

And now on to the blockbusters of 1925…

Books First Published in 1925

Movies Released in 1925

Leaders in the Open World, Intellectual Property, and Social Justice Join Our Public Domain Day Celebration

The public domain is an invaluable component of our culture, allowing for the remixing, reinterpretation, and redistribution of designated works without restriction. On December 17th, we’ll be celebrating the works published in 1925 that will be moving into the public domain when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2021. Our virtual celebration is free and open to the public.

As part of our celebration, we’re bringing together leaders in the open world, intellectual property, and social justice to discuss the value of the public domain for creative expression and open scholarship, and provide perspectives on the marginalized communities that have been left out of the copyright system in the United States.

ABOUT OUR SPEAKERS

KEVIN J. GREENE, SOUTHWESTERN LAW A graduate of the Yale Law School and a veteran of the United States Marines, Professor Kevin J. Greene is the John J. Schumacher Chair Professor at Southwestern Law in Los Angeles, California. Professor Greene’s scholarship in the areas of copyright, trademark and publicity rights has garnered national and international recognition in the intellectual property (“IP”) arena, particularly his pioneering work on African-American music and copyright law.

JENNIFER JENKINS, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN Jennifer Jenkins is a Clinical Professor of Law at Duke Law School and Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, where she writes its annual Public Domain Day website. She is the co-author (with James Boyle) of two comic books — Theft! A History of Music, a 2000-year history of musical borrowing and regulation, and Bound By Law?, a comic book about copyright, fair use and documentary film — as well as the open coursebook Intellectual Property: Cases and Materials (4th ed, 2018). Her articles include In Ambiguous Battle: The Promise (and Pathos) of Public Domain Day and Last Sale? Libraries’ Rights in the Digital Age. She is currently writing a book on “Music Copyright, Creativity, and Culture” (forthcoming from Oxford University Press).

HEATHER JOSEPH, SPARC Since her appointment as SPARC’s Executive Director in 2005, Heather has focused the organization’s efforts on supporting the open and equitable sharing of digital articles, data, and educational resources. Under her stewardship, SPARC has become widely recognized as the leading international force for effective open access policies and practices. Among her many achievements, she convened the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and the Open Access Working Group, which provided critical advocacy for the establishment of the landmark 2008 NIH Public Access Policy and the 2013 White House Memorandum on Public Access to Federally Funded Research.

BREWSTER KAHLE, INTERNET ARCHIVE A passionate advocate for public Internet access and a successful entrepreneur, Brewster Kahle has spent his career intent on a singular focus: providing Universal Access to All Knowledge. He is the founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, one of the largest libraries in the world. In 1989, Kahle created the Internet’s first publishing system called Wide Area Information Server (WAIS), later selling the company to AOL. In 1996, Kahle co-founded Alexa Internet, which helps catalog the Web, selling it to Amazon.com in 1999. The Internet Archive, which he founded in 1996, now preserves petabytes of data – the books, Web pages, music, television, and software that form our cultural heritage.

KATHERINE MAHER, WIKIMEDIA FOUNDATION Katherine Maher is the CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects. She is a longtime advocate for free and open societies, and has lived and worked around the world leading the introduction of technology and innovation in human rights, good governance, and international development. Katherine has worked with UNICEF, the National Democratic Institute, the World Bank, and Access Now on programs supporting technologies for democratic participation, civic engagement, and open government. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Human Rights and the Council on Foreign Relations, and a fellow at the Truman National Security Project. She is on the Board of the American University of Beirut, and the Digital Public Library of America.

LATEEF MTIMA, INSTITUTE FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY & SOCIAL JUSTICE Lateef Mtima is the Founder and Director of IIPSJ; he is also a Professor of Law at the Howard University School of Law where he regularly teaches courses in intellectual property law and commercial law. Professor Mtima is a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School. He has published numerous articles on copyright, publicity rights, and diversity in the legal profession, and is the editor of Intellectual Property, Social Justice, and Entrepreneurship: From Swords to Ploughshares (Edward Elgar 2015), and a co-author of Transnational Intellectual Property Law (West Academic Publishing 2015).

CATHERINE STIHLER OBE, CREATIVE COMMONS Catherine Stihler OBE is the CEO of Creative Commons. She has been an international champion for openness as a legislator and practitioner for over 20 years. After graduating from St Andrews University, she worked in the British House of Commons as a researcher before successfully standing for election as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Scotland in 1999, representing the UK Labour Party. In 2019, Catherine was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of her services to politics. Catherine joined Creative Commons in 2020.