Prior to 1976, copyright lasted a maximum of fifty-six years, twenty-eight years with a possible twenty-eight year extension. Since 1976, Congress has extended copyright several times, to the point where it's now the life of the author plus seventy years or, in the case of work for hire, ninety-five years. Because the extensions have been retroactive, nothing new will enter the public domain in the United States until 2019 at the earliest. On January 1st (sorry about the delay), we recognize the books that would've entered the public domain this year, had the extensions not been passed.
Here are some of the notable works, though by no means the only ones, published in 1957 that would've entered the public domain yesterday:
- Samuel Beckett, Endgame
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
- Margret Rey and H.A. Rey, Curious George Gets a Medal
- Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat
- Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, The Untouchables
- Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
- Walter Lord, Day of Infamy
- Studs Terkel, Giants of Jazz
- Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, The Three Faces of Eve
- Ian Fleming, From Russia, with Love
- Ann Weldy, Odd Girl Out
- A.E. Van Vogt, Empire of the Atom
(and that's just the books -- movies include Bridge on the River Kwai, 3:10 to Yuma, and 12 Angry Men and music includes Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and Elvis's "All Shook Up")
If you live in the UK, the news is slightly better. Your term of copyright is also life plus seventy years, but it wasn't retroactive. As of yesterday, your public domain now includes the works of Beatrix Potter and Sergei Rachmaninoff, among others.
If you live in Canada, however, your term is still life plus fifty years. Your public domain now includes the works of Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley.