In his day job, Parker Higgins is the director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and the former head of copyright activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But on the side, he has a passion for public-domain content, so in 2019 he put together a project called 1923, which became a year-long ‘zine which he distributed — on paper! — to subscribers who funded his Kickstarter campaign. The archives of the ‘zine are available online now, and they are fascinating. Here’s what Parker says in the preamble/about section of the site:
The year 1923 has served as an invisible barrier for decades. For the first two decades of the 21st century‚Äîthe very time period that archives, databases, and collections were really starting to come online — the commons was cut off at that year; works published before 1923 were safely in the public domain, while works published in 1923 or later were risky and required individual research.
On January 1, 2019, the public domain resumed its march forward after a 20-year hiatus. Our cultural commons now includes a handful of very famous works: one of the most iconic images of the silent film era; the first book of poetry by e e cummings; a legendary novelty song that topped the charts for weeks. These well-known works got lots of well-deserved attention in January 2019 as they rose into the public domain, their copyright restrictions falling away after so many years.
“If we don’t engage with the public domain, we can’t truly feel its value,” writes Parker. “And if we don’t feel its value, we will lose it—to industry groups that benefit from lopsided policy, or to companies that would privatize our shared culture, or simply to history and irrelevance. This zine project is a humble counterforce, picking out a few compelling and thought-provoking subjects from a massive archive. An entire year of culture is intimidating, but I hope a few hand-selected highlights gives an easy and human-scale way to feel its weight.”