For artists, writers, and musicians, copyright is an invaluable safeguard, protecting intellectual property of original works of authorship. But eventually, no matter how jealously a large corporation might hoard the rights to a lucrative property, all creative work passes into the public domain, making it free for reproduction or adaption without permission. In the U.S., copyright terms were extended twice during the 20th century, to a term of 95 years—which meant nothing new entered the public domain between 1998 and and 2019, and that many works of art were forgotten long before becoming fair game for any contemporary reimagining.
The realm of public domain, therefore, offers almost limitless possibilities for creativity, allowing artists to breath new life into forgotten works of art and reintroduce them to modern audiences. That is the genesis for "Public Domain," a musical collaboration between writer and visual artist Katherine McMahon and musician and producer Ray Angry that turns old songs that have passed out of copyright into new music for the 21st century. This week marks the release of the second track of the album, "Alcoholic Blues." Artnet News Senior Writer Sarah Cascone is joined by Ray and Katherine to discuss the project and the creative importance of public domain.