Public domain, where there is life after copyright

For nearly four decades, United Airlines has recognized George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” as its musical identity. In 2020, however, Gershwin's jazzy classic fell from the sky – and ended up in the public domain.

This means that when copyright expires, anyone is free to use and build upon that work. “No fees, no licensing, no owner tracking, no consent,” said Jennifer Jenkins, director of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University Law School.

She said there are many famous works that no longer belong to their creators: films like Charlie Chaplin's “The Circus” and Fritz Lang's “Metropolis,” books like Ernest Hemingway's “The Sun Also Rises” and characters like Peter Pan, Dracula and Frankenstein. They are all owned by now usthe public, free for everyone to create something new.

Jenkins said, “The public domain does not mean the death of copyright. It is only the second part of the copyright life cycle.”

The concept of putting an expiration date on intellectual property was something the founding fathers actually wrote into the U.S. Constitution, “…to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” However, they left it up to Congress to decide how long the copyright terms should last.

According to Jenkins, “If copyright lasted forever, it would be very difficult for many creators to make the works they want to make without worrying about finding themselves in the crosshairs of a copyright lawsuit.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925. Anyone wishing to use elements of the novel, whether Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio, had to obtain permission from the Fitzgerald Estate, which held the copyright for 95 years.

Blake Hazard admits that that is long, but does not think it is too long. “Then that's my personal opinion, and I'm obviously biased,” said Hazard, Fitzgerald's great-granddaughter and administrator of his estate.

When “Gatsby” finally entered the public domain in 2021, she saw a slew of Gatsby-esque projects waiting to be launched, including the “Nick” novels, a prequel by Michael Farris Smith; and “Beautiful Little Fools” by Jillian Cantor, and “The Chosen and the Beautiful” by Nghi Vo, each retelling the story of “Gatsby” through different characters.

“I always hope there will be some loyalty, but we have no control over that,” Hazard said. “So we just have to embrace that a little bit.”

She has just been invited to a new post-copyright film adaptation of her great-grandfather's work: a “Great Gatsby” musical opening on Broadway this month. “I hope it is good!” she laughed.

The show's writer, Kait Kerrigan, said, “We didn't want to do something that was very different from the novel. We wanted to add perspective and layers to the novel.”

Director Marc Bruni said, “Each group of artists is going to distill a story through their own lens.”


For her/my green light – The Great Gatsby on Broadway Through
The great Gatsby musical on
YouTube

The truth is that most works are not fortunate enough to be economically viable for as long as those of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, or even Walt Disney.

This year, “Steamboat Willie,” which unleashed two of history's most lucrative rodents, entered the public domain. To be clear, don't use the modern Mickey or Minnie, as they are still copyrighted; only the version as they first appeared is fair game.

But as soon as those first copyrights expired, this is what we got: a Mickey slasher movie, “Mickey's Mousetrap.” The same thing happened when AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh entered the public domain: the very non-G-rated “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.”

steamboat-willie-en-mickeys-mouse-trap.jpg
Mickey Mouse, as he appeared in his first animated short, “Steamboat Willie” (1928), and as he appeared in the upcoming slasher film, “Mickey's Mouse Trap” (2024).

Walt Disney Images; In Frame productions


It is these types of reinterpretations that many estates fear.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognized literary characters of the 19th century, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate began to see copyright expiration in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Conan Doyle estate continued to demand licensing fees, arguing that since some of the later Sherlock Holmes stories were still under copyright, they should still own the rights to all the characters.

Author Les Klinger, one of the leading scholars on Sherlock Holmes, said, “At some point, enough is enough.”

In 2013, Klinger was about to publish an adaptation of the supposedly copyright-free detective, titled “In the company of Sherlock Holmes,” when this happened, “The estate contacted that publisher and said, 'You need a license,'” Klinger said. “And we said to the publisher, 'No, you're not doing that.' We just thought it was wrong, absolutely wrong, and it made us very angry.”

So Klinger filed a civil suit in federal court… and he won. “They didn't give up easily,” he said. “They tried to squeeze all the juice out of these lemons until they ran out of copyright.”

Jennifer Jenkins of Duke University said, “Copyright gives rights to creators and their descendants that provide incentives to create. But the public domain is really the ground for future creativity.”

More copyright conflicts are certainly on the horizon. Characters like Bugs Bunny, Superman, and Batman will all soon be without copyright protection.

Even Luke Skywalker will eventually be in the public domain too, sometime around 2073. That sure seems like a galaxy far, far away.


For more information:


Story produced by Mark Hudspeth. Editor: Ed Givnish.

Related Posts

Writer Shalom Auslander catalogs his lifelong battle with self-contempt in ‘Feh’ : NPR

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Tonya Mosley. Today, my guest is writer Shalom Auslander. For decades, he’s written with humor about what it was like to grow…

Comedian Bob Newhart, who helmed classic TV sitcoms, dies at 94 : NPR

Bob Newhart played psychologist Robert Hartley on the 1970s sitcom The Bob Newhart Show. Gerald Smith/NBCUniversal via Getty Images hide caption switch caption Gerald Smith/NBCUniversal via Getty Images Bob Newhart…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Missed

What It Was Like to Spent a Year in NASA's Mars Base Simulation

  • July 19, 2024
What It Was Like to Spent a Year in NASA's Mars Base Simulation

Pelosi has told House Democrats that Biden may soon be convinced to withdraw from the race

  • July 19, 2024
Pelosi has told House Democrats that Biden may soon be convinced to withdraw from the race

18 Silk and Great Value plant-based milk alternatives recalled in Canada due to listeria deaths and illnesses

  • July 19, 2024
18 Silk and Great Value plant-based milk alternatives recalled in Canada due to listeria deaths and illnesses

Trump Bitcoin Conference Fundraising Tickets for Nashville Soiree Hit $844,600 Max

  • July 19, 2024
Trump Bitcoin Conference Fundraising Tickets for Nashville Soiree Hit $844,600 Max

Solar parks with rainwater management reduce runoff and erosion, research shows

  • July 19, 2024
Solar parks with rainwater management reduce runoff and erosion, research shows

Food aroma research could help explain why meals in space taste bad

  • July 19, 2024
Food aroma research could help explain why meals in space taste bad

The mindset, technology and tools holding back e-commerce

  • July 19, 2024
The mindset, technology and tools holding back e-commerce

Writer Shalom Auslander catalogs his lifelong battle with self-contempt in ‘Feh’ : NPR

  • July 19, 2024
Writer Shalom Auslander catalogs his lifelong battle with self-contempt in ‘Feh’ : NPR

Canadian Jacob Shaffleburg, Colombian Richard Rios and Copa America stars set for transfers

  • July 19, 2024

Trump speaks at RNC amid Biden election questions

  • July 19, 2024
Trump speaks at RNC amid Biden election questions

Stocks Making the Biggest After-hours Moves: ISRG, NFLX, PLUG

  • July 19, 2024
Stocks Making the Biggest After-hours Moves: ISRG, NFLX, PLUG