On New Year’s Eve, millions of people held celebrations. Christians held vigils, New Yorkers flooded the Times Square, and the Chinese will have to wait a month before they start their New Year — like seriously. It sounds like good news, but most companies which had works produced in the 1920s were just about to lose their copyrights — as thousands of works of art entered the public domain for the first time in more than 20 years.
Related media: Copyright Basics: Crash Course Intellectual Property 2
Don’t Copy Me Yet
Copyright is the exclusive legal rights given to an inventor for a said amount of time for the release of a product and/or service. What this means is that, if you release a work of art, you’re entitled to a certain number of years to continue producing it, and other producers cannot copy whatever work it is until the number of years is up. That’s a really long time, but at long last, all shall come to pass. This year, a lot of copyrighted works will be available for the general public to copy.
This year, every work of American art first released in 1923 has lost it’s copyright protection and enters the public domain. This means that, as of New Year’s Day, the work officially belongs to “the public.” No entity — individual or corporate institution — owns it anymore, and anyone can reproduce, reuse, and remix the work in the public domain however they want, without asking for permission or paying royalties. Since royalties could mean serious business sometimes, artists pay six figures to sample a song.
Though most of these works are almost a century old or older, yet their still relevant today.
Time Up To Copy
Here’s a partial list of works that are officially in the public domain. See more here.
- “Kansas City Stomp” by Jelly Roll Morton.
- “Weather Bird Rag” by Louis Armstrong.
- “Violin Sonata No. 1” by Béla Bartok.
- “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” by Irving Berlin.
- “Sarabande,” written by Claude Debussy and orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.
- “River Side Blues” by Tommy Dorsey.
- “I Won’t Say I Will, But I Won’t Say I Won’t” by George Gershwin.
- “Sundown Blues” by W.C. Handy.
- “Fugal Concerto, op. 40, no. 2” by Gustav Holst.
- “Jail House Blues” by Bessie Smith.
- “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas.
- “Adventures of Doctor Dolittle” by Hugh Lofting.
- “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes
- “Ivanhoe” by Walter Scott.
- “The Overcoat and Other Stories” by Nikolay Gogol.
- “Land and Sea Tales for Boys and Girls” (among others) by Rudyard Kipling.
- “The Pilgrim” by Charlie Chaplin.
- “Our Hospitality,” directed by and starring Buster Keaton.
- “Where the North Begins,” Rin Tin Tin’s third movie.
- “A Woman of Paris” by Charlie Chaplin.
Rights Over, ‘Copytime’
You might wonder, why has this taken such a long time? Back in the late 90s, the United States copyright term was 75 years, and everyone expected works from 1923 to enter the public domain in 1999. But that wasn’t the story, Walt Disney wanted an extension of the time, so they spearheaded a lobbying, and finally succeeded. In 1998, the US Congress extended the copyright term of 75 years to 95 years, and works from 1923 spent an extra 20 years under copyright protection.
Walt Disney wanted that extension because Mickey Mouse debuted in Steamboat Willie in 1928, so they wanted to as many years as possible enjoying the “Mickey Mouse” copyrights. Formally, the copyright laws before 1998, Mickey’s doppelganger would have entered the public domain in 2004; but in the new 1998 law, Mickey doesn’t enter the public domain until 2024.
The New Year gave rights for works from the 1920s to entered the public domain at last. The 1920s was a decade of urban growth, it has been called The Roaring 20s, which gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance, and, of course, the prohibition — ban on the production, export, or import of liquor. Those times were revolutionary in Western culture, and today we’ve been granted the chance to explore arts from the 20s, thanks to copyrights.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sun, Jan 20, 2019.