It is the third annual public domain day in the United States. January 2019 was the first time in a long time that anything covered by copyright in the US entered the public domain. This year makes 3 years of stuff finally making it to the point that they can be freely distributed, built upon, reworked, or used however anyone wishes.
One cool option for using public domain material this year is to check out the Gaming Like Its 1925 game jam over on itch.io. This game jam is hosted by Some very awesome people who are interested in promoting the public domain and working to make copyright work for the people once again. There are prizes available and just a lot of fun to be had there for all interested.
And just like every year, the Duke Law School has published an article highlighting many of the works that have entered the public domain at midnight last night. There is a ton of books, movies, music, non-fiction, and a lot more that are now available for anyone.
Here at Random Tower, we are well aware of the problems caused by long copyright terms. While it is great that we finally have works from 1925 entering the public domain, most of what we can actually access are only those things that have timeless appeal. There is so much lost to history that we can never recover. That is why we like to highlight what could have been had copyrights never went beyond the original 14 years with an optional 14 year extension.
So lets take a quick look at what games could be entering the public domain had copyright never exceeded 28 years. Back in 1992, we had amazing console systems like the SNES, Sega Genesis, and even some not so great systems from other companies. Here are some game published that year, that you could freely distribute today if copyright never changed.
- Adventure Island 3
- Air Zonk
- Alisia Dragoon
- Several Barbie and Batman games
- Bomberman ’93
- Contra III: The Alien Wars
- Dragon Quest V
- Final Fantasy V
- King’s Quest VI
- Lunar: The Silver Star
- Night Trap
- Romancing SaGa
- Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, as well as Champion Edition, Rainbow Edition, and The World Warrior
- Super Mario Kart
- Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
- Wolfenstein 3D
There are so many amazing games (and of course many not so amazing games) released that year. But the fact remains, many of these games are either legally unavailable right now, or are only available in expensive and hard to find hard copies of the original.
Going back to the original copyright, it was for 14 years with an optional 14 year renewal. The vast majority of works published under the original terms of copyright never renewed beyond the original 14 years. Under that law, many games from 2006 would be entering the public domain today.
- Age of Empires: The Age of Kings
- Black and White 2: Battle of the Gods
- Disgaea 2
- Dwarf Fortress
- Final Fantasy XII
- Half-Life 2: Episode One
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
- Mother 3
- Persona 3
- Suikoden V
- Viva Pinata
- Wild Arms 5
Of course, we hold no expectation that copyright will ever return to such short lengths. But we recognize that with copyrights extending nearly a century or more, many of the game we grew up with will join the many long forgotten works. Even today, just 28 years from 1992, many of the games in the list above have already become “orphan works”, works covered by copyright, but the owner cannot be found. This is because game companies have shut down, been bought out, merged, rights sold, etc, and the people and companies who actually own the copyright to some of these games don’t actually know it. That is why so much more needs done to allow such works to enter the public domain.