NPR’s Scott Simon reflects on the legacy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The literary classic’s copyright expired on the first day of 2021.
The copyright on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby expired on the first stroke of 2021 and the book entered the public domain.
The classic 1925 novel of love foiled, ambitions foisted, class and betrayal sold fewer than 25,000 copies before Fitzgerald died. It has since sold nearly 30 million. I gave our daughter the copy I had in high school when she read it last year. The Great Gatsby has been turned into stage productions, an opera, five film versions, a Taylor Swift song and inspired innumerable prequels, spinoffs and variations.
In the public domain, Gatsby may now become even more familiar. Two new editions are about to come out and who knows what kind of projects — a Gatsby rom-com? Gatsby joins The Avengers? — might now get a green light, which recalls the imperishably eloquent last passage of the book: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.”
Gatsby’s Jazz Age Long Island may not look like a microcosm of contemporary America. Neither does Don Quixote, The Scarlet Letter, Macbeth or Their Eyes Were Watching God. We want young readers to be able to see themselves in stories; but literature can also show us that people we don’t think are much like us at all turn out to have some of the same heart, blood and dreams. That can be the power of empathy in art.
People everywhere can now download, remix and share Smithsonian Open Access content for any purpose, for free, from portraits of historic Americans to 3D scans of dinosaur fossils. What will you create, imagine and discover?
From Duke Law “Center For The Study of the Public Domain”:
On January 1, 2020, works from 1924 will enter 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.
Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. and The Navigator
Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy and Hot Water
The first film adaptation of Peter Pan
The Sea Hawk
He Who Gets Slapped
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not… (the first volume of his “Parade’s End” tetralogy)
Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms
Edith Wharton, Old New York (four novellas)
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (the English translation by Gregory Zilboorg)
A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle’s Circus
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Ant Men
Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit
Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett), The King of Elfland’s Daughter
Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin
Fascinating Rhythm and Oh, Lady Be Good, music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin
Lazy, Irving Berlin
Jealous Hearted Blues, Cora “Lovie” Austin (composer, pianist, bandleader) (recorded by Ma Rainey)
Santa Claus Blues, Charley Straight and Gus Kahn (recorded by Louis Armstrong)
Nobody’s Sweetheart, music Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman
(Only the musical compositions referred to above are entering the public domain. Subsequent arrangements, orchestrations, or recordings of those compositions, such as Yuja Wang’s performance of Rhapsody in Blue, might still be copyrighted. You are free to copy, perform, record, or adapt Gershwin’s composition, but may need permission to use a specific recording of it.)