For anyone who doesn’t know, “public domain” is what happens when art’s copyright expires. Right now, in the US, copyright applies to tangible art for 70 years after artists’ death.
Copyright law sometimes changes; that 70 years has been extended, for example, with the most recent change being the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, which I think occurred in the 90s.
I have lots of thoughts about copyright. Copyright is, generally, what corporate publishers buy from authors so that they can profit from authors’ work. This is why, for example, readers still have to pay Scribner $13 for a digital copy of The Great Gatsby despite the fact that Fitzgerald himself died nearly 80 years ago.
But for now we should just celebrate what has now become public domain — work whose rights have expired, and so they can be not only read and shared freely but adapted upon and created from. If you’d like to write the sequel to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, now you may!
Wikipedia has a great list of what just entered public domain. Not all of it will be freely available immediately — that will take some time, I’m sure, for reasons of digitization.
But it’s a great step in the right direction.