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1924 Copyrighted Works To Become Part Of The Public Domain

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA'S PERFORMANCE OF GEORGE GERSHWIN'S "RHAPSODY IN BLUE")

NOEL KING, HOST:

That is one of the best-known American classical compositions ever - George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue." On Wednesday, it and other works published in 1924 became part of the public domain.

JENNIFER JENKINS: Which means anyone can create their own "Rhapsody In Blue" that will be there to inspire the next Gershwin.

KING: That's Jennifer Jenkins. She runs the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke.

JENKINS: Believe it or not, the U.S. Constitution, by design, mandates that copyrights last for limited times so that works fall into the public domain, where the public has free access to them and, importantly, where future creators can freely build upon them.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And under current law, notable works of fiction from 1924 will soon be copyright-free.

JENKINS: Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain," E. M. Forster's "A Passage To India." Some great children's books going into the public domain - one of them is A. A. Milne's "When We Were Very Young."

INSKEEP: Oh, gosh - and also a number of great silent films.

JENKINS: There are two films by Buster Keaton - "Sherlock Jr." and "The Navigator" - and two by Harold Lloyd - "Girl Shy" and "Hot Water." And they are just wonderful. They are going into the public domain.

INSKEEP: As will a lot of music, including "Rhapsody In Blue."

KING: Jennifer Jenkins says that work was actually supposed to go into the public domain about 20 years ago. But the Gershwin Family Trust and Disney and other stakeholders lobbied Congress to extend the terms of copyrighted works from 75 years to 95 years, and they won.

JENKINS: It's entirely understandable that the Gershwin Family Trust would want to keep copyright over their works. But the problem is that only maybe 1% of works is still generating any income. And so for those 99% of works, no one got any benefit. But the rest of us - the public, all of the future creators - we lost out on the ability, for 20 years, to freely build upon those works.

KING: But as of this Wednesday, "Rhapsody In Blue" - more than 95 years old - is fair game.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA'S PERFORMANCE OF GEORGE GERSHWIN'S "RHAPSODY IN BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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