Lobby card for the 1924 film Peter Pan, the first adaptation of the book to film (Wikimedia Commons)

Public Domain Day is here, and there’s much to celebrate. Starting today, January 1, anyone can legally access, remix, and republish (depending on your jurisdiction) classics like George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Gift of Black Folk, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr, and the first film adaptation of Peter Pan.

These works belong to thousands of titles from 1924 that will enter the public domain in 2020 after being copyrighted for 95 years.

These copyright-free works will be available on the Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and Google Books, which will offer the full text of the books, instead of showing only snippet views or partial previews.

This means that educators and historians can share the texts; community theaters can screen the films; youth orchestras can publicly perform classics; and creators can legally reimagine the books, films, and songs from 1924.

One other major benefit of the public domain is that it gives a second life to cultural materials that might otherwise be lost to history. “The vast majority of works from 1924 are out of circulation,” writes Balfour Smith, program coordinator of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain in a blog post. “When they enter the public domain in 2020, anyone can make them available online, where we can discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them.”

In the past, copyright protection in the United States lasted for 75 years. That changed with the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, which gave works published from 1923 through 1977 a 95-year term.

Here are some more films, books, and music you can enjoy copyright-free in 2020, as compiled by Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain:

Films

  • The first film adaptation of Peter Pan
  • Buster Keaton’s The Navigator
  • Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy and Hot Water
  • The Sea Hawk
  • Secrets
  • He Who Gets Slapped
  • Dante’s Inferno

Books

  • Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
  • Jelly Roll Morton, King Porter Stomp
  • E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
  • Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not … (the first volume of his “Parade’s End” tetralogy)
  • Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms
  • Edith Wharton, Old New York (four novellas)
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (the English translation by Gregory Zilboorg)
  • A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
  • Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle’s Circus
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Ant Men
  • Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit
  • Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett), The King of Elfland’s Daughter

Music

  • “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good”, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin
  • “Lazy” by Irving Berlin
  • “Jealous Hearted Blues” by Cora “Lovie” Austin (composer, pianist, bandleader) (recorded by Ma Rainey)
  • “Santa Claus Blues” by Charley Straight and Gus Kahn (recorded by Louis Armstrong)
  • “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman

But not all the works of art released in 1924 were masterpieces. To cool off some of the excitement about this year’s Public Domain Day, Slate put together a list of the worst of 1924, according to critics of the time.

Last year’s list of public domain newcomers included more works of visual arts, as Hyperallergic reported. Works included Marcel Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)” (1915–23), Max Ernst’s “Pietà or Revolution by Night” (1923), and Wassily Kandinsky’s “On White II” (1923). The list also included Kahil Gibran’s book The Prophet, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and Charlie Chaplin’s film The Pilgrim.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative...

One reply on “Happy Public Domain Day! Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is Copyright Free”

  1. Since the 1920s, corporations have methodically used their political pull to have the copyright period extended so they could squeeze more profits out of creative work. Finally, in 1998, Disney realized Mickey Mouse—who was created in the ’20s—was about to go public domain. So they pulled every string they could, and had copyright extended to its currently ridiculous length. This now means that (almost) none of us will ever see work go public-domain that was created during our lifetimes. Ironically, copyright law was never intended to maximize creators’ profits… It was to give authors a “reasonable” term of ownership (I think it was 24 years, initially) before their work became available to everyone, as a product of our culture. The whole thing is scandalous—but of course, the money is where the power is, so protests are rarely heard.

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