1925– it was a very good year. It was the year F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby,” Virgina Woolf issued “Mrs. Dalloway,” Theodore Dreiser wrote “An American Tragedy.” “The Painted Veil” — a movie not too long ago — was published by Somerset Maugham.
And now, their copyrights have expired after 95 years. They are in the public domain. If you want to write your own version, change the characters, write sequels or prequels, knock yourself out. Their estates can’t control it.
Someone’s already written a “Gatsby” prequel about Nick Carraway, the famed narrator. Fitzgerald and his editor, Max Perkins, are no doubt rolling in their graves. Zelda will have to cut back on her heavenly parties.
Some songs by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Ma Rainey — currently starring in her own movie — are also up for grabs now. “Always” by Berlin, “Looking for a Boy” by George and Ira, and “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” by Gus Kahn & Walter Donaldson are all also in the public domain.
All of the 1925 works would have expired in 2001, but Congress put on a 20 year extension.
Also on the list are films by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, the German translation of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” and the classic song “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard & Kenneth Casey.
Eventually, all works will expire under the copyright law including “Hamilton” and the Beatles’ songs and even the latest hit by Taylor Swift. The older rights holders who’ve made recent deals — like Lindsey Buckingham and Bob Dylan — are getting their dough while they can.
How long before Gatsby fakes his death in the swimming pool, reinvents himself as someone else famous with plastic surgery — and Hollywood makes a movie? Oh, it won’t be long, I’ll bet.