Under European Union law all books, poems and paintings pass into the public domain 70 years after the death of their creator.
At midnight last night the works of artists and thinkers who died throughout 1939 slipped out of copyright, meaning they can be reprinted and posted on the internet without incurring royalties.In addition to Yeats and Freud, the list includes Arthur Rackham, the illustrator whose drawings appeared in early versions of children’s books such as Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the novelist Ford Madox Ford, and Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt.
Wikimedia, the not-for-profit foundation that runs the sites, hopes that further works will be uploaded by the public throughout the year, providing near-complete and legal archives of the artists’ output.
“In the internet age it’s so much easier to distribute out-of-copyright material at a marginal cost,” he said. “But digital technology also makes is straightforward for people to create new works inspired by old works. It opens up huge possibilities that did not exist before.”