Sherlock Holmes among thousands of books, movies, music compositions entering public domain in 2023

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

A Sherlock Holmes collection, the first film to win the Oscars' top prize and a classic ditty by Irving Berlin are among the thousands of books, films and musical compositions entering the US public domain in 2023.

When a piece of art enters the public domain, it means no one holds the copyright to it. Anyone can broadcast, consume or reimagine these works without having to pay royalties. Books, films and artworks in the public domain are also often more easily distributed and sometimes free to consume.

Among the most famous of this year's crop are "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes," which decisively ends a decades-long saga of Arthur Conan Doyle's estate attempting to curb use of the character by other authors, the wartime romance "Wings" and Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz."

Remember that trailer for an indie horror film starring a bloodthirsty Winnie-the-Pooh? Filmmakers were able to turn beloved children's characters like Piglet and Christopher Robin into villains -- and the Walt Disney Company, producer of many a Pooh film, couldn't do anything about it -- all because A.A. Milne's Pooh books became part of the public domain last year.

Hemingway, Gershwin and Woolf works are in the public domain this year

One of the most notable additions to the public domain this year is "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes" which contains Doyle's final Holmes stories. Though US copyright law holds that the original version of a character enters the public domain when the work in which it appears does -- even if it's the first in a series whose copyrights have not lapsed -- Doyle's estate has at times pushed back against other creators' portrayals of Holmes in their work. That ends this year, now that "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes" enters public domain, according to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University. (Holmes has been part of the UK public domain since 2000.)

Several other works by acclaimed authors enter the public domain this year, including Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse," Ernest Hemingway's collection "Men Without Women" and Agatha Christie's "The Big Four."

Among films, "Wings," a 1927 film starring Clara Bow that was named "outstanding picture" at the very first Academy Awards ceremony, is now part of the public domain, as is "Metropolis," the iconic German sci-fi film directed by Fritz Lang whose influence is evident throughout the sci-fi genre. Another new addition to the public domain is the controversial Al Jolson-starring film "The Jazz Singer," known as the first film with synchronized recorded dialogue, though it's infamous for several scenes of Jolson performing in blackface.

The Sherlock Holmes statue in front of Baker Street Station in London.
The Sherlock Holmes statue in front of Baker Street Station in London. Photo credit: Getty Images

Several musical classics are joining the public domain, including "The Best Things in Life Are Free," from the musical "Good News" (also famously the song to which the "Mad Men" character Bert Cooper departed the series); the Gershwins' love song "'S Wonderful"; songs from the Oscar Hammerstein musical "Show Boat" and, to the delight of frozen dessert lovers everywhere, "(I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream."

How things enter the public domain

There is no "one" public domain, according to the journal and research project the Public Domain Review. Instead, there's a system of composites: In the US, works that entered the public domain this year were published in 1927.

Some countries, which follow the term of "life plus 50 years," will incorporate works by people who died in 1972 into the public domain (New Zealand and many Asian and African countries follow this model). Other countries follow "life plus 70 years" (this includes the UK and much of South America).

Some notable additions to the public domain in 2023


  • "Metropolis," Fritz Lang
  • "The Jazz Singer," Alan Crosland
  • "Wings," William A. Wellman
  • "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog," Alfred Hitchcock
  • "The King of Kings," Cecil B. Demille
  • "Upstream," John Ford


  • "To the Lighthouse," Virginia Woolf
  • "Men Without Women," Ernest Hemingway
  • "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes," Arthur Conan Doyle
  • "The Big Four," Agatha Christie
  • "Now We Are Six," A.A. Milne
  • "Amerika," Franz Kafka
  • "Le Temps retrouvé," Marcel Proust
  • "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," Thornton Wilder


  • "The Best Things in Life Are Free," George Gard De Sylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson; from the musical "Good News"
  • "Puttin' on the Ritz," Irving Berlin
  • "(I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream," Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, Robert A. King
  • "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"; "Ol' Man River," Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern; from the musical "Show Boat"
  • "Potato Head Blues, Gully Low Blues," Louis Armstrong
  • "S' Wonderful," George and Ira Gershwin; from the musical "Funny Face"