Welcome to the In the Public Domain project!

illustration by Charles Cullen from Copper Sun by Countee Cullen

Every year, under US copyright law, the intellectual ownership of creative material produced 95 years earlier shifts from an individual author or artist to the general public. Commonly, this is referred to as a work “entering the public domain”. The process of entering the public domain signals a new transition within the lifecycle of copyright, as explained by Stanford Libraries’ Copyright and Fair Use guide, “Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it”.

This new era of public ownership is significant for many reasons, but chief among them is that it allows anyone to use and build upon the content of this material as they wish without fear of copyright infringement (with some exceptions). Publishers can release new editions, scholars can create new compilations and the public can rediscover long-forgotten works.

A significant portion of material held in Princeton’s Special Collections falls under the purview of public domain, however, every year new items are added to that pool.

Here you will find a curated selection of books entering the public domain starting in the year 2020 (or those published in 1924) that have been chosen by the librarians in the Special Collections Department at Princeton’s Firestone Library. All of these books were important milestones in literature, although only two each year have been recognized as canonical within a North American literary landscape. The others celebrate the narratives of women, Queer, and/or people of color to challenge and expand notions of the canon.

By making these items digitally available and highlighting them here, we hope to enrich common understandings of the twentieth-century literary landscape, inspire readers and scholars to explore works previously unknown and challenge ourselves to dive deeply into the multiplicity of voices held in our stacks.

Please note that some of the materials featured on this site may include images, themes or words that include harmful, offensive, distressing, or inappropriate images or language. Please see the Library's Statement on Harmful Content for more information on the decision to hold these items.