Copyright: Artworks entering the public domain in 2024

The public domain
Entering the public domain refers to the status of creative works where the intellectual property rights, such as copyright, have either expired or been waived. This means that they are no longer under the protection of copyright holders, allowing them to be freely used, reproduced and adapted by creatives, such as cartoonists, or indeed, anyone, without the need to seek permission or pay royalties.

Duration of copyright protection
The duration of copyright protection varies significantly throughout the world. In the European Union, the duration of copyright protection generally lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years after their death. In the United States, copyright protection depends on several factors, including the date of first publication. Copyright on works created after 1 January 1978 also last for the life of the author plus 70 years, however works published before this date have, in principle, a copyright protection lasting for 95 years from the year of its first publication. The United Kingdom follow a similar model to the EU, with copyright typically lasting for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.
These differences present an interesting contrast. For example, George Orwell’s “1984” entered the public domain in the UK and EU in 2021 (70 years after the author’s death), but will not do so in the US until 2044 (95 years after publication).

What is allowed in the public domain?
Works in the public domain can be freely used for various purposes, including reproduction, distribution, adaption and commercial exploitation. Individuals and organisations therefore have the right to incorporate elements from these works into their own creations, whether for artistic expression, educational purposes or cultural preservation. Raw materials of art pieces, such as images, texts or musical compositions can be used without fear of infringing copyright. These works can now legally be shared, performed, reused, repurposed or sampled.
For example, in 2022, A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” entered the public domain, prompting the horror-slasher film “Blood and Honey” based on the famous character, which was released last year.

Enhancing creativity through public domain artworks

Artworks entering the public domain can greatly enhance creativity and innovation. By removing legal barriers and granting unrestricted access to cultural heritage, the public domain encourages artists, writers, filmmakers and other creators to draw inspiration from the past and build upon existing works to produce new and transformative creations.

However, beyond copyright, other legal limitations, such as those imposed by cultural heritage laws in countries like Italy and Greece, can still restrict the use of publicly-owned artworks. These laws often mandate prior consent and the payment of fees for certain uses of cultural heritage materials, even if they are in the public domain. For instance, the Uffizi museum made headlines when it took legal action against Jean Paul Gaultier for the unauthorized reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus on fashion garments. This shows how Italian cultural heritage laws are used to protect publicly-owned artworks from unauthorized commercial exploitation. Therefore, while a reproduction may fall within the public domain, the depicted work may be subject to additional rights or obligations, hindering its unrestricted utilization. Furthermore, considerations like moral rights or contractual agreements may also impact the accessibility and usage of these artworks.

The EUIPO’s role regarding copyright
The EUIPO has established and manages the out-of-commerce works portal, aimed at facilitating the sharing of information regarding copyrighted that are no longer commercially available across the EU. These include various forms of artistic works such as literature, audio-visual works, music recordings, photographs and unique artworks. The portal serves as a publicly-available centralised platform where cultural heritage institutions publicise information about out-of-commerce purposes. This extends to all types of content, not just photographs. Additionally, it offers opt-out options for rights holders, like publishers, allowing them to withdraw their works from the system if desired. This initiative opens up new opportunities for digitizing and sharing Europe’s cultural heritage, enhancing accessibility and safeguarding valuable artistic creations for future generations.

Examples of artworks entering the public domain in 2024
In 2024, we welcome a diverse range of artworks and iconic figures into the public domain, including pieces from renowned artists and literary works that have left a firm mark on our cultural landscape.
Among our favorites are:

  • “The Circus” Charlie Chaplin’s silent romantic comedy
  • “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque
  • “The Mystery of the Blue Train” by Agatha Christie
  • “The Cameraman” by Buster Keaton
  • Artworks by Raoul Dufy
  • “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence
  • “Orlando: A Biography” by Virginia Woolf

Disney’s earliest images of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, from Steamboat Willie, are among the famous characters that have entered the public domain this year, following their 95-year copyright expiration. However, other more modern versions of Mickey are still covered by copyright. Other famous American films, books, music and characters from 1928 are now also available to the public. It should be noted, however, that any other existing intellectual property rights may still apply. In the case of Disney, they still hold a trade mark on Mickey as a brand identifier and a corporate mascot, meaning there are still limits on how the public can use these images.
Next year, Popeye the Sailor Man will join the ranks of famous figures to become free for public use.
European Union Intellectual Property Office – EUIPO (2024). Copyright: Artworks entering the public domain in 2024. Retrieved from: