Public Domain Day is here with a cache of previously copyrighted literature, film, music, and art, free for use without permission. Starting today, January 1, you can legally access, adapt, remix, and republish (depending on your jurisdiction) classics like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and a collection of silent films including the timely comedy Lovers in Quarantine.
These works are among thousands released in 1925, an eventful year in cultural production. They were initially slated to enter the public domain in 2001, after 75 years of copyright protection, but that changed when the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act extended the term for another 20 years. Now, they’rethey’re finally available for creative use without fear of a lawsuit.
The 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.
The BBC’s Culture website suggested that 1925 might be “the greatest year for books ever.” In addition to Fitzgerald’s and Woolf’s masterpieces, it gave us famous works of literature like Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Ernest Hemingway’s first novel In Our Time, and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. This year also marked the height of the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that revived and celebrated Black American art and literature, with the notable publication of Alain Locke’s foundational book The New Negro.
But not all books published in 1925 contributed positively to humanity’s cultural heritage. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a stark case in point.
In music, 1925 was a year marked by outstanding contributions by Black American musicians like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith (nicknamed the “Empress of the Blues”), and Duke Ellington. However, not all of these influential musicians were able to benefit from the copyright system during the copyright term. Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, notes in a blog post that many of these musicians “were routinely excluded from the copyright system, either because of racist business-practices, legal formalities that disproportionately affected minority musicians, or unequal access to the tools of the law themselves.”
“Many never received credit or compensation for their songs,” Jenkins writes, noting that artists like Rainey, Smith, and Ellington were of the few whose work was actually attributed to them. However, receiving credit did not necessarily mean that these artists were fairly compensated for their work.
“Discrimination, segregation, lopsided contracts, and an exclusionary music business deprived many of these musicians—Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, and others—of the full payment their work so richly deserved,” Jenkins adds.
See a selection of the works of literature, film, and music that entered the public domain this year:
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
- Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
- Franz Kafka, The Trial (in German)
- Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
- John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
- Alain Locke, The New Negro (collecting works from writers including W.E.B. du Bois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Eric Walrond)
- Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith
- Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys
- Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves
- W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
- Dorothy Scarborough, On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs
- Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction
- Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai
- Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman
- The Merry Widow
- Stella Dallas
- Buster Keaton’s Go West
- His People
- Lovers in Quarantine
- Pretty Ladies
- The Unholy Three
- Always, by Irving Berlin
- Sweet Georgia Brown, by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard & Kenneth Casey
- Works by Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” including “Army Camp Harmony Blues” (with Hooks Tilford) and “Shave ’Em Dry” (with William Jackson)
- “Looking for a Boy” by George & Ira Gershwin (from the musical Tip-Toes)
- “Manhattan” by Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers
- “Ukulele Lady” by Gus Kahn & Richard Whiting
- “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” by Gus Kahn & Walter Donaldson
- Works by ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton, including “Shreveport Stomps” and “Milenberg Joys” (with Paul Mares, Walter Melrose, & Leon Roppolo)
- Works by W.C. Handy, including “Friendless Blues” (with Mercedes Gilbert), “Bright Star of Hope” (with Lillian A. Thorsten), and “When the Black Man Has a Nation of His Own” (with J.M. Miller)
- Works by Duke Ellington, including “Jig Walk” and “With You” (both with Joseph “Jo” Trent)
- Works by ‘Fats’ Waller, including “Anybody Here Want To Try My Cabbage” (with Andrea “Andy” Razaf), “Ball and Chain Blues” (with Andrea “Andy” Razaf), and “Campmeetin’ Stomp“
- Works by Bessie Smith including “Dixie Flyer Blues“, “Tired of Voting Blues“, and “Telephone Blues“
- Works by Lovie Austin, including “Back Biting Woman’s Blues“, “Southern Woman’s Blues“, and “Tennessee Blues“
- Works by Sidney Bechet, including “Waltz of Love” (with Spencer Williams), “Naggin’ at Me” (with Rousseau Simmons), and “Dreams of To-morrow” (with Rousseau Simmons)
- Works by Fletcher Henderson, including “Screaming the Blues” (with Fay Barnes)
- Works by Sippie Wallace, including “Can Anybody Take Sweet Mama’s Place” (with Clarence Williams)
- Works by Mrs. H.H.A. (Amy) Beach, including “Lord of the Worlds Above“, Op. 109 (words by Isaac Watts, 1674–1748), “The Greenwood“, Op. 110 (words by William Lisle Bowles, 1762–1850), “The Singer“, Op. 117 (words by Muna Lee, 1895–1965), and “Song in the Hills“, Op. 117, No. 3 (words by Muna Lee, 1895–1965)
Note: only the musical compositions listed above are entering the public domain. Subsequent arrangements, orchestrations, or recordings of those compositions, such as the recording of “Sweet Georgia Brown” by the Beatles and Tony Sheridan, might still be copyrighted.
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