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January 2, 2020 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Movies, Music, and Books That Enter the Public Domain Today [Center for the Study of Public Domain] “On January 1, 2020, works from 1924 [entered] the US public domain, where they will be free for all to use and build upon, without permission or fee. These works include George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, silent films by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and books such as Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, and A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. These works were supposed to go into the public domain in 2000, after being copyrighted for 75 years. But before this could happen, Congress hit a 20-year pause button and extended their copyright term to 95 years. Now the wait is over. The list below may not be completely comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start. (To find more material from 1924, you can visit the Catalogue of Copyright Entries.)”
Movies:
• Sherlock Jr. starring Buster Keaton
• The Navigator starring Buster Keaton
• The Iron Horse directed by John Ford
• Girl Shy starring Harold Lloyd
• Hot Water starring Harold Lloyd
• He Who Gets Slapped starring Lon Chaney
• Peter Pan (1924 version)
• Captain January starring Baby Peggy
• America directed by D.W. Griffith
• Greed directed by Erich von Stroheim
• The Sea Hawk directed by Frank Lloyd
• Waxworks directed by Paul Leni
Music:
• “Rhapsody in Blue,” by George Gershwin
• “Fascinating Rhythm,” with music by George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin
• “Nobody’s Sweetheart,” with music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, and lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman
• “Lazy” by Irving Berlin
• “Jealous Hearted Blues,” by Cora “Lovie” Austin (composer, pianist, bandleader)
• “Santa Claus Blues,” by Charley Straight and Gus Kahn
Books:
• Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs
• The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
• The Dream by H. G. Wells
• Hay Fever by Noël Coward
• When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne
• A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
• The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
• Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
• Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth
posted by Fizz (35 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
So, works from 1924 are finally available for use without permission. 1924. Copyright in the US is so fucked up.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:27 AM on January 2 [15 favorites]


Copyright in the US is so fucked up.™

FTFY.
posted by Fizz at 5:27 AM on January 2 [10 favorites]


Imagine if we hadn't had a twenty year freeze. Everything through 1944 would now be in the public domain.
posted by fings at 5:30 AM on January 2 [14 favorites]


• Greed directed by Erich von Stroheim

eponyste®ical
posted by lalochezia at 5:38 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


95 years might seem like a long time, but just think of how many great works of art, literature, music and film wouldn't have been produced back in 1924 if the copyright term had been shorter! (Oh, you say that in 1924, it was only 56 years?) Well, just think of how many great new works we enjoy today wouldn't be being produced if there were a shorter copyright term! (Three? Zero?)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:10 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Well, just think of how many great new works we enjoy today wouldn't be being produced if there were a shorter copyright term! (Three? Zero?)

Yes, because creative labor doesn't deserve protection to allow those engaged in it to actually benefit from their work. And then people wonder why the creative industries are being hollowed out.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:44 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


People who want a curated view of some ephemera that have recently ascended into the public domain might enjoy Parker Higgins's 1923 zine project from last year.

He notes, in discussing excerpts from the magazine Kodakery:
At the time, the overwhelming majority of photographs in that era would never have interacted with copyright at all.

It’s not that copyright didn’t apply to photography—it certainly did as far back as 1884.... But copyright, then, was not the default state—for about a century after that decision, new works needed to bear a copyright notice and go through a registration process. As you can imagine, most people didn’t bother to go through these formalities outside of limited commercial contexts.
posted by brainwane at 6:50 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]


Copyright in the US is so fucked up.™

FTFY.


I mean, not to be that guy, but it should be "Ⓒ"

TM is "trademark", which is rather different than copyright.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:10 AM on January 2 [13 favorites]


If anyone is wondering how Melville appears on this list, Billy Budd was published posthumously in 1924.
posted by condour75 at 7:21 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, according to Variety "at least 75 Rolling Stones studio and live outtakes dating from 1969" were placed on YouTube on Dec 31st and taken down 24 hours later" in an apparent move to officially release the recordings before they passed into public domain" and out of control of the group and Abkco Music and Records.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:26 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Yes, because creative labor doesn't deserve protection to allow those engaged in it to actually benefit from their work. And then people wonder why the creative industries are being hollowed out.

How many people currently involved in creative labor are counting on the proceeds they would theoretically be making on that between 2076 and 2115? That's what at issue here, not whether there should be any copyright protections at all.
posted by Copronymus at 7:30 AM on January 2 [32 favorites]


think of how many great new works we enjoy today wouldn't be being produced if there were a shorter copyright term! (Three? Zero?)

I believe the "Three? Zero?" was a prediction of how many wouldn't be produced, not the proposed shorter copyright term.
posted by RobotHero at 7:41 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Oh, sure, there was plenty of good stuff released in 1924, but what if you want to know about all the terrible stuff produced that year? Slate has a compendium of the worst art of 1924, as reviewed by contemporary critics.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:46 AM on January 2 [6 favorites]


It has been reported that the Disney Corporation has been particularly proactive in the extention of copyright length for one primary reason - the first Mickey Mouse cartoons were made in 1927. So "the Mouse" has three more years to get the term extended further. What are the odds that the even-bigger-and-more-powerful Disney will simply let it expire? Did somebody already say Zero?
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:55 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


the worst art of 1924, as reviewed by contemporary critics.

So even in 1924, "so bad it's good" was at work.
Unless we are much mistaken the author has written it with full sincerity. These unconscious burlesques beat the premeditated article every time. Possibly there is something just a little cruel in enjoying bad work. It may well be that the spectator is amused by noting the gap between what the author is trying to do and what he has actually accomplished.
posted by RobotHero at 8:13 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


What are the odds that the even-bigger-and-more-powerful Disney will simply let it expire?

As of 2018 the RIAA and MPA were not lobbying for another copyright extension, and there are no copyright extension bills pending in Congress.

Disney, for its part, has been busy making the early Mickey Mouse cartoons a more integral part of its brand. There's a reason that a short animated clip from Steamboat Willie became the Walt Disney Animation Studios' production logo in 2007. This makes the Steamboat Willie iteration of Mickey Mouse into a strong trademark, meaning that while the film Steamboat Willie may pass into the public domain, it will be difficult to make derivative works without running afoul of Disney's trademark.
posted by jedicus at 8:22 AM on January 2 [17 favorites]


Previously.

Never say never, of course, but the subject of Mickey’s copyright protection and why it is unlikely to be extended prior to expiration in 4 years has been discussed before. Disney has other protections for their IP beyond copyright, such as trademark, that don’t have expiration dates. (On preview, what jedicus said.)

Honestly, I’m more interested to see what Disney does when some of the even more explicitly racist stuff (and hoo boy, is Steamboat Willie racist!) from the 40s hits public domain (see WW II propaganda films and Song of the South). Right now, they are holding those films from distribution and stuff that is racist-but-not-too-racist-for-white-folks (Hi, Dumbo!) gets a bland disclaimer on Disney+.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:25 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


plastic_animals: Meanwhile, according to Variety "at least 75 Rolling Stones studio and live outtakes dating from 1969" were placed on YouTube on Dec 31st and taken down 24 hours later" in an apparent move to officially release the recordings before they passed into public domain" and out of control of the group and Abkco Music and Records.

Ohohoho, that's shitty. Sony was at least "kind" enough to sell their aging Bob Dylan material, and under the cheeky-but-true header of Rare Performances from the Copyright Collections (All Music review of the 1962-1966 collection).

As noted in the AMG review: "the copyright sets aren't designed for listenability"

Universal did something similar to this Rolling Stones stunt, with The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963 (Wikipedia). "Released on 17 December 2013, exclusively through the iTunes Store," "initially only available for a few hours" but more readily available later. Still, it appears they're digital-only copies, as Discogs listed physical copies are all marked as Unofficial, AKA bootlegs. Which seems appropriate, with the given title of the collection.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:54 AM on January 2


The Gershwin music is the big one for me. There are already remixes and homages to Rhapsody in Blue made since yesterday that couldn't be made before.
posted by scruss at 10:05 AM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Copyright in the US is so fucked up.™

FTFY.


Ah, no, it's definitely fucked up everywhere, and anywhere that does business with the US might as well be beholden to its copyright laws to some extent anyway. This is also not something I think I can with a clean conscious lay at the feet of horrible ol' USA, certainly the ills of copyright and patent law are entirely caught up with market-obsessed capitalism.

Shout outs to the cool cats in Shenzhen who gleefully ignore copyright and patents to make quicker progress. In that one regard, I have a lot of respect.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:00 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


scruss: The Gershwin music is the big one for me. There are already remixes and homages to Rhapsody in Blue made since yesterday that couldn't be made before.

I imagine that people were working on them for the prior weeks, months, and perhaps years, and only now distributing them because they could, at least with more legal ease. I wonder how many similar works are lurking on harddrives, being passed between friends and creative partners, waiting for copyrights to expire.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:17 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


If anyone is wondering how Melville appears on this list, Billy Budd was published posthumously in 1924.

I wonder what Melville would have made of the opera based on it.

(Also, if anybody's got links to good Gershwin remixes, please share!)
posted by asperity at 12:21 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Is there a list of Canadian works that have entered the public domain this year? *goes off to google*
posted by Canageek at 12:41 PM on January 2


Wouldn't remixes (as opposed to arrangements) be using samples from audio recordings which would still be under copyright?
posted by Television Name at 12:50 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I wonder how many similar works are lurking on harddrives, being passed between friends and creative partners, waiting for copyrights to expire.

This is one of the weird things I don’t understand about copyright - at least as it pertains to music. The biggest obstacle to the dissemination of remixes and such isn’t that they can’t do so for a reasonable fee but rather that getting permission is onerous. If I simply want to record a new version of a song, I simply pay a small fee. But if I, say, want to use a small section of melody or even just a hook, you have to get explicit permission from the rights holder.

Other creative arts, such as architecture and fashion do not have that protection, which seems arbitrary to me.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 12:57 PM on January 2


Shout outs to the cool cats in Shenzhen who gleefully ignore copyright and patents to make quicker progress. In that one regard, I have a lot of respect.

Yeah, they're just taking the labor of others (and not just that of corporations, but also small creators as well) without giving anything back for it. Not to mention that this behavior is why things like Amazon Marketplace are flooded with cloned products that routinely choke off the profits for small creators. But I guess that "progress" is more important than equitable treatment.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:43 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


My dream changes to US copyright law:

1) All works revert to their original term of copyright, with ex post facto extensions being deemed unconstitutional, as they restricted works that should have belonged to the public after a known period of time.

2) New works are copyrighted for only 20 years without registration. (That's long enough for a college student to realize that his refrigerator drawings from when he was 6 might be relevant to his artistic career later.) After that: $20(ish) fee to register for another 20 years. After that: $200 for another 10 years. Then $2,000 for another 10. Then $20,000 for another 10. And so on. If Disney thinks a movie is worth $200,000 in revenue for the stretch between 70 and 80 years, they can pay the government to keep it out of the public domain.

3) Withdraw from the Berne Convention and push for a new international treaty that doesn't result in copyrights devolving to corporations for generations after the creator's death - any work held by an individual that transfers to a corporation, immediately knocks the copyright down to "no more than 25 years from the date of transfer." Companies need work-for-hire to have longstanding copyrights, not snapping up the creative works of individuals.

Is there a list of Canadian works that have entered the public domain this year?

Canada is a Life+50 country. Works by creators who died in 1969 are now in the public domain in Canada. These include the works of Jack Kerouac (On the Road), John Wyndham (Day of the Triffids), and Frank Loesser ("Baby, It's Cold Outside").
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:46 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


Other creative arts, such as architecture and fashion do not have that protection, which seems arbitrary to me.

It's not arbitrary at all - these gaps exist to allow the top names in those worlds to freely predidate on the up and comers.

It always makes me laugh bitterly when I hear people argue that copyright is only for the big corporations - many times, it's copyright that forces the corporations to deal somewhat honestly with creators. And it's worth remembering that the anti-copyright line gets pushed by a multi billion dollar multinational corporation built on content distribution which would benefit from not having to deal with copyright when dealing with content creators.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:51 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Thank you so much for posting this, Fizz - I am always so happy to see great old works enter the public domain, and I know it tends to happen this time of year (after the horrible hiatus), but I often forget to go look at what's graduated into the public domain.

I am delighted to see these works become more freely available to everyone, and I hope lots of people take the opportunity to create cool new works based on, using, or inspired by these old works. (I, in fact, am tinkering with a little thingy this very day that could possibly make use of some of these items.)

Thanks for sharing this with us!
posted by kristi at 4:06 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


The star of Captain January (1924), Baby Peggy, is still alive.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:31 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


I mourn the works lost before reaching the public domain. It will be worse now that we're in the digital age. I implore everyone to own their media, back it up, and commit shameless piracy to preserve human art and culture.
posted by Sterros at 8:45 PM on January 2


2) New works are copyrighted for only 20 years without registration. (That's long enough for a college student to realize that his refrigerator drawings from when he was 6 might be relevant to his artistic career later.) After that: $20(ish) fee to register for another 20 years. After that: $200 for another 10 years. Then $2,000 for another 10. Then $20,000 for another 10. And so on. If Disney thinks a movie is worth $200,000 in revenue for the stretch between 70 and 80 years, they can pay the government to keep it out of the public domain.

An intellectual property tax? I like it.
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:30 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


If I simply want to record a new version of a song, I simply pay a small fee. But if I, say, want to use a small section of melody or even just a hook, you have to get explicit permission from the rights holder.

The shortish answer is that there are actually two applicable copyrights in this situation - one for the song itself and one for the specific recording of the specific performance of a song that is being sampled for remixing. These two copyrights can be owned by two different groups of people, and often the copyright for the recording is at least partially owned by the record label.

There are historical reasons for why this developed this way - remember that "popular music" existed before recording and playback technology. "Pop songs" were originally distributed via printed sheet music and often written by people who were not performers. (Which is one of the reasons "publishers" loom large in copyright law, it's essentially a bit of historical cruft that has been used to game the system in favor of corporations. IMO.) But so anyway copyright was written so songwriters could benefit, with the assumption that performers would earn income from live & broadcast performances. As the technology developed and matured there was an additional income stream of selling copies of recordings, but it was still the case that very very often performers did not write the songs they were performing. So in order to allow performers (and record labels) to benefit from record sales a new type of copyright was created, copyright of the recording itself separate from the song.

It wasn't really until The Beatles that performers wrote a lot/most/all of the songs they performed and recorded, and the, well, cultural domination of post-Beatles rock for decades means that the existence of these two different copyrights is not widely understood. But plenty of genres (country, R&B, hip hop, lots of current pop music) still operate under a model where often the writer is not the performer. So the recording copyright is still useful.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:31 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Which is one of the reasons "publishers" loom large in copyright law, it's essentially a bit of historical cruft that has been used to game the system in favor of corporations. IMO.

Copyright law was written to prevent publishers from preying on other publishers; actual content creators were almost irrelevant. The reason the penalties are ridiculously large, is to dissuade Publisher A from copying Publisher B's bestseller novel, or an entertainment company from performing Publisher B's hit play. A penalty of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars would be plenty to prevent Pat Q. Citizen from encroaching on copyrights. The entire set of laws are designed for corporate, not individual, lawsuits, which is why it's all so complex and difficult (and expensive) to prosecute.

(This is also why companies are trying to beef up the criminal versions of copyright infringement, which are more rare - because if they're criminal, taxpayer dollars pay for the prosecutions.)

The laws were also designed with the idea that copies were difficult and expensive to make. 80 years ago, to make multiple copies of a book, you needed at least thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands, in equipment. The average person could neither copy a movie nor do a public performance of it. The laws were set with the theory of "anyone worth prosecuting has the apparatus of an entire publishing business."

Music had slightly different rules, because the average (talented) person could do public performances of music for profit, separately from the ability to play back the recorded version.

TL;DR Copyright law is a damned mess and needs to be redesigned from scratch. Someone find a nice pack of congressfolks to write up a new version and push it through while everyone's distracted by the hellpocalypse in other areas.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:51 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]




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