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If it weren't for the corporate influence over U.S. copyright laws, the brilliant works that would be in the public domain this year include Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues​, Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King.

It's a unique obsession among fair-use and copyright law reformists but it has a number of real-world ramifications. In a new article by the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, the organization highlights the trove of film, literature and music created in in 1955 which would've become public domain if not for the 1976 Copyright Act that extended copyright protection for 70 years after the original author's death (it used to be 56 years). For your everyday culture-seeker, the effects of the law mean you can't liberally quote or re-print these works or create a movie adaptation or sample music (hello hip-hop fans!) from them without consent. Here are some of the better works from 1955 this decades-old law affects.


The Seven-Year Itchfeaturing Marilyn Monroe and the iconic subway vent scene. 

Rebel Without a Cause featuring James Dean:

Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp: 

Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief:


Chuck Berry's Maybelline:

Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues: 

Carl Perkins' Blue Suede Shoes 


Obviously there's a huge range of important literature from 1955 but here are some of the more salient releases. To see the larger list of cultural gems, go to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain's website here:

 • Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do About It
• J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, the final installment in his Lord of Rings trilogy
The Family of Man, Edward Steichen’s book of photographs showing the diversity and universality of human experience
• Michihiko Hachiya’s Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 8–September 30, 1945, translated by Warner Wells, md
• Evelyn Waugh’s Officers and Gentlemen, the second book in his Sword of Honour trilogy
• The first English translation of Thomas Mann’s last novel, Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: The Early Years (1954), by Denver Lindley
• C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth volume his The Chronicles of Narnia
• Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
• Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee’s play about the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” Inherit the Wind

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