The Thing About Today – January 1

January 1, 2020
Day 1 of 366


January 1st is the first day of the year. It is known as New Year’s Day for most of the world. It is the last day of Kwanzaa, the eighth of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the second day of Hogmanay in Scotland.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Bloody Mary Day and National Hangover Day.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1735, famous American silversmith, engraver, and revolutionary patriot Paul Revere was born.
  • In 1752, Betsy Ross was born. This famous seamstress was credited with designing the Flag of the United States.
  • In 1801, Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres, the first and largest known object in the asteroid belt.
  • In 1808, the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves took effect in the United States.
  • In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by US President Abraham Lincoln, took effect in territory claimed by the Confederate States of America. While the order legally freed Confederate slaves, the American Civil War would continue for two years.
  • In 1898, the City of Greater New York was created. The first four boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx – were born out of land annexed from the surrounding counties. Staten Island would join them on January 25th.
  • In 1934, Alcatraz Island became a United States federal prison.
  • In 1983, the internet as we know it was born as the ARPANET adopted to the Internet Protocol.


It’s also celebrated in several countries around the world as Public Domain Day, an observance of when copyright protections expire and works enter the public domain. These copyright protections typically comprise the life of the author plus a certain number of years after their death as dictated by jurisdiction. After that period, the work becomes available to everyone without the need for prior authorization.

Notably, Australia’s restrictive copyright laws ensure that their first Public Domain Day won’t be until 2026. The United States was unable to celebrate between 1999 and 2018 due to the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998.

The first federal copyright law in the United States was passed in 1790. A virtual copy of Great Britain’s Statute of Anne, it offered 14 years of protections for “maps, charts, and books” with one renewal if the copyright holder was still alive at the end of the first term. The Copyright Act of 1831 added protections for musical compositions and extended the first term to 28 years. The second term was extended to 28 years by the Copyright Act of 1909, resulting in a total of 56 years for each copyright.

The Copyright Act of 1976 dramatically changed things by changing the term of protection to the creator’s life plus 50 years after death, including current works not in the public domain. It also created a 75-year term for anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works for hire from the point of publication. This act was also the first time that “fair use” was codified.

And then Disney got involved. Mickey Mouse, created in 1928, would be protected under the 1976 rules until 2003. The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998, heavily lobbied for by The Walt Disney Company and sponsored by Sonny Bono, extended copyright protections to the life of the author plus 70 years. In the case of corporate authorship, the term was extended to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever expires first. For works published before January 1, 1978, protections were extended to 95 years after publication.

Mickey was saved from the public domain until 2024, but the collateral damage was the advancement of pretty much anything else into public domain.

Consider works authored in 1920. They were protected by the 1909 Act and therefore enter the public domain on January 1, 1977. Works authored in 1921 were protected by the 1976 Act and would expire on January 1, 1997. Works from 1922 would expire on January 1, 1998.

The CTEA made it so that works authored in 1923 wouldn’t enter the public domain until January 1, 2019. The change to copyright froze the advancement of intellectual property into the public domain, resulting in the loss of some works to isolation behind unnecessary legal protections by owners who did nothing with them or were long since dead.

Thousands of works were finally released to the public last year.

This year, in general, works (including printed music) published in 1924 will enter the public domain. Audio recordings published outside of the United States are included, but those published in the United States are still under copyright until 2025 courtesy of the Music Modernization Act. Unpublished works whose authors died in 1949 will enter public domain as well.


Happy New Year!


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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