The Public Domain Welcomes William Saroyan
Copyright law is a complicated matter. An entire domain of the legal profession has sprouted up to try and not only determine who owns what intellectual property, but whether or not a work has infringed on an existing work. It can be a maddening process, and one that has led to many difficult situations.
But it has also given us the Public Domain.
Public Domain is a state of existence for works that meet certain criteria. When a work enters the Public Domain, it is free for use by any and all in any way they wish. Re-publication and derivative works are available to all who wish to pursue using Public Domain materials.
How do you know something is in the Public Domain?
In some countries, that criteria is based on the creator’s lifespan. The EU and UK recognize an author’s work as under copyright until 70 years after the author’s death. Many other countries recognize the publication date of the work as being the determining factor. The date of that publication is also important as requirements have changed, and some of them leave behind a murky residue that can make the determination difficult, even for lawyers. In the United States, as a rule of thumb, after 95 years a work enters the Public Domain on January 1st of the following year, thus works published in 1928 entered the Public Domain on January 1st, 2024.
And William Saroyan published his first five works in 1928.
Saroyan has some good company entering the Public Domain in 2024. The most significant might be Steamboat Willy, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. Other films include The Circus by Charlie Chaplin, The Fall of the House of Usher, an avant-garde classic, and Wings, the first film to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture. Books include significant written works from Agatha Christy, Dorothy Sayers, W.E.B. DuBois, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolfe, and H.G. Wells. George Gershwin's An American in Paris, and Cole Porter's show Paris are among the most important musical entries.
We covered Saroyan’s earliest published works previously on the blog. These works demonstrate where Saroyan was looking, and what he was trying in an attempt to make his mark on the literary world. It’s no shock that three of his earliest works were in magazines that were not mainstream at the time. The San Franciscan and Boulevardier were both small publications with regional audiences. His most significant sales were to Overland and Outwest Magazine.
We're currently trying to find original copies of Boulevardier and The San Franciscan. If anyone has copies or knows where they might be, please contact us as we want to make sure that the best possible versions are preserved for generations to come.
Throughout 2024, we’ll be covering the five stories Saroyan released in 1928, starting with How to Write. We’ll be creating commentary and readings of the pieces, and exposing the connections to Saroyan’s later writings, the literary world in general, and how time, and what we consider appropriate literary values, have evolved over the last 95 years.
“About a Man who Wanted to be in Love.” – Boulevardier
The Big Midget and a Lady,” – Boulevardier
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Chris Garcia - Archivist, Forever Saroyan, LLC
January 2nd, 2024, San Jose, California