How Public Domain Literature Can Benefit Classroom Reading

What Has Changed?

After a 20 year hold, 50,000 literary titles from 1923 were released to the public in 2020.

These volumes will now enter public domain use for the first time. This is great news for teachers looking for literary materials to use with their students. Be sure to check out these great resources and see how you can use them in your own classroom.

In the past, copyrighted works were held for a 75-year copyright protection term.

In 1998, Congress extended the copyright term for 20 years to works written between 1923 and 1977. This hold prevented specific titles from being released as public domain literature. Congress placed this hold on these titles based on pressure from Disney.

Disney wanted to keep their Mickey Mouse Steamboat Willy cartoon out of the public domain. This gave these works, a 95-year copyright protection term. Disney faces the imminent release of the first Micky Mouse cartoon in 2024 – that is – unless another extension is granted to Disney to protect their copyright.

Since 1978, copyrighted works are protected for the term of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years. Time will tell what happens to public domain releases after 2024.

Stack of books with student hiding behind the books.
Teachers now have access to over 50,000 works that can now be used in the classroom.

What This Means for Teachers

This is great news for teachers! 

As of this release, these newly released materials are now available to be read, adapted,  and publicly performed in public schools across the United States.

Teachers do not have to worry about royalties or copyright infringement when they use these resources in their classrooms. This includes books like Edgar Rice Burrough’s, Tarzan and the Golden Lion, Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links and  D.H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo. The release also includes great works from authors and poets such as Robert Frost, Kahlil Gibran, Carl Sandberg, and many others.

This is a real treasure trove of material so be sure to check out the new items that you can now use with your students.

In addition to the written works, musical works from composers such as Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, John Phillip Sousa, and many other artists have also been released for public domain use. This could be great news not only for literature teachers but for school music and band teachers as well.

Where Can I Get Public Domain Works for my Classroom?

One good source of public domain works is Project Gutenberg at

Another good place to find the new releases from 1923 are on the Duke Law Center for the Study of the Public Domain website.

This is a great time to introduce students to some of the great artists of this era.

For example, what ELA teacher wouldn’t love modeling student writing off of Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening?  

Enjoy this vast treasure trove! Keep your fingers crossed that Congress continues to release expired copyrighted materials when they are due to be released.

We can ask that they no longer bow to corporate pressure in the future. We can hope that they see the value of releasing these materials when they are scheduled so everyone can enjoy these great works.



You May Also Like:

How to Improve Your Ability to Teach Reading

Teaching Listening Skills