On January 1, a host of classic books, music, and films created in 1925 became free for anyone to use without licensing or getting permission from a copyright holder. Books such as F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith, Aldous Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves, Agatha Christie’s The Secret of Chimneys, and The New Negro have all come on the public domain.
Copyright on films like Buster Keaton’s Go West, Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman, The Merry Widow, and Lovers in Quarantine have lifted, while songs like Always by Irving Berlin, Yes Sir, That’s My Baby by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson, and songs by Gertrude “Ma” Rainey’s and Bessi Smith can be used for free as well.
What does coming under the public domain mean?
In the USA, copyright terms are set by the Congress. According to the Duke University Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, “when Congress passed the first copyright law in 1790, the copyright term lasted for 14 years, with the option to renew for another 14 years if the copyright holder was still living”.
In an amendment in 1998, the copyright term was increased to 70 years after the author’s death. Later, the term was changed to 95 years since a work was published. After a gap of two-decades of no new works being free from copyright, in 2019 works of 1923 came under the public domain.
The year 2021 marks the third time since copyrights have expired and the works brought under the public domain.
What’s coming in 2021?
“It’s a blockbuster list from 1925,” says Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain in an article about this year’s Public Domain Day.
“1925 brought us some incredible culture. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. The New Yorker magazine was founded. The literature reflected both a booming economy, whose fruits were unevenly distributed, and the lingering upheaval and tragedy of World War I. The culture of the time reflected all of those contradictory tendencies. The BBC’s Culture website suggested that 1925 might be “the greatest year for books ever”, and with good reason. It is not simply the vast array of famous titles. The stylistic innovations produced by books, such as Gatsby, or The Trial, or Mrs. Dalloway, marked a change in both the tone and the substance of our literary culture, a broadening of the range of possibilities available to writers, while characters such as Jay Gatsby, Hemingway’s Nick Adams, and Clarissa Dalloway still resonate today,” writes Jenkins.
Here are some of the works from 1925 that will be available from this year:
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
The Trial (in German) by Franz Kafka
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos
Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman
The Merry Widow
Buster Keaton’s Go West
Always by Irving Berlin
Sweet Georgia Brown by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard and Kenneth Casey
Works by Gertrude “Ma” Rainey
Looking for a Boy by George and Ira Gershwin (from the musical Tip-Toes)
Manhattan by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers
Ukulele Lady by Gus Kahn and Richard Whiting
Yes Sir, That’s My Baby by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson
You can find the complete list on the website of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, a Duke University project that tracks copyright expirations.