“Great Gatsby” and other classics enter public domain Jan. 1

Jasmine Garsd Dec 31, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Want to put on a royalty-free production of "The Great Gatsby"? You can do that after midnight. Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images

“Great Gatsby” and other classics enter public domain Jan. 1

Jasmine Garsd Dec 31, 2020
Want to put on a royalty-free production of "The Great Gatsby"? You can do that after midnight. Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

There’s a lot we don’t know about what will happen in 2021, but one thing we do know is that the last copyright protections run out for books, songs and other works published in 1925. 

On Jan. 1, they will officially be in the public domain, free for anyone to use. Among the notable artists with some songs going public Friday are Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith.

Also losing its copyright: the silent film “Lovers in Quarantine,” about a couple that has to quarantine together for a whole week, which doesn’t sound so bad in 2020. Classic novels like Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” John Dos Passos’ “Manhattan Transfer,” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby” are also on the list to enter the public domain.

Lucy Jewel, professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, said she expects “the price of the book coming down on Amazon, because now there’s no proprietary publisher of it.”  

And there is already a new prequel to “The Great Gatsby,” ready to publish on Jan. 5. 

There is often a creative explosion that happens when works of literature or music go public, said New York University law professor Barton Beebe.

“It’s much more affordable to use them, be it in a big-budget Hollywood movie or even in a high school play or something like that,” he said.

Even the originals often also get a revival. One example was the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It originally bombed at the box office in 1946. Then in 1974, a legal glitch temporarily released it into the public domain, which meant stations did not have to pay royalties and could play it over and over again. That turned it into a holiday classic.

So anyone thinking of producing “The Great Gatsby” with their drama club has a green light after midnight.

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