U.S. works from 1927 and earlier have entered the Public Domain.
January 1 is the day when works published in the U.S. 95 years ago enter the public domain making them free from copyright protection. This means they can be legally shared, without permission or fee. In addition to books, there are scores of silent films, famous Broadway songs, and well-known jazz standards. This year no sound recordings are entering the public domain—for that, we will have to wait until January 1, 2024, when recordings from 1923 will become open for legal reuse.
To find more material from 1927 and earlier you can visit the Catalogue of Copyright Entries.
For more information on Public Domain Day see the Center for the Study of the Public Domain.
You can read more about the public domain in Professor James Boyle's book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press, 2008) — the full text is available for free here.
Works going into the public domain are the specific works from 1927, not the later books, movies, or translations based on the original books, or all of the other work by that author. For example, while you are free to use Hemingway’s short stories in Men without Women (including Hills Like White Elephants and In Another Country), later books such as A Farewell to Arms (1929) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) are still copyrighted.
Here are just a few of the books that are now freely usable:
Every piece of recorded music is covered by two distinct copyrights, one over the original composition—the words and music—and the second over the actual recording of the song. Only the musical compositions are entering the public domain, not the recordings of those songs, which are covered by a separate copyright. For example, Irving Berlin’s words and music to Puttin’ on the Ritz were registered for copyright in 1927 and are now free for anyone to copy, perform, record, adapt, or interpolate into their own song. But the 1930 recordings by Harry Richman and by Fred Astaire are still copyrighted.
1927 marked the beginning of the end of the silent film era, with the release of the first full-length feature with synchronized dialogue and sound. Here are the first words spoken in a feature film from The Jazz Singer: “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothing yet.” Please note that while the original footage from these films will be in the public domain, newly added material such as musical accompaniment might still be copyrighted.