Publishing History

Public Domain in 2020

According to the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, works published between 1923 and 1977 were given an extension to their copyright from 75 years to 95 years. Works published after 1978 are under copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years.

This means that works published in 1924 are now in the public domain. They can be reproduced, revised, performed, etc., without having to pay any royalties to the estate. Every year for the next 50+ years, there will a new batch of properties that will become public domain on January 1.

This year’s group includes some well-known works, including:

Books

  • Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit
  • Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
  • E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
  • A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Ant Men
  • Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms
  • Edith Wharton, Old New York (four novellas)
  • Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle’s Circus
  • W. E. B. Du Bois, The Gift of Black Folk

Music

  • Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin
  • Fascinating Rhythm and Oh, Lady Be Good, music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin
  • Lazy, Irving Berlin
  • Santa Claus Blues, Charley Straight and Gus Kahn (recorded by Louis Armstrong)

George Gershwin once described his inspiration for Rhapsody in Blue: “It was on a train … that I suddenly heard – and even saw on paper – the complete construction of the Rhapsody in Blue, from beginning to end. I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America – of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness. By the time I reached Boston I had a definite plot of the piece, as distinguished from its actual substance.”

So, if you want to set Tarzan and the Ant Men to the music of Rhapsody in Blue, you can now do so without fear of violating any copyright law. Whether your rendition would be worthy of anyone’s time is another question entirely.

Next year, in January 2021, a few significant books will shift to public domain:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • P. G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves
  • G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man
  • T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (the poem)
  • Willa Cather, The Professor’s House
  • Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (hard to believe it was published that long ago)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
  • Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys
  • Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
  • Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time (short stories)
  • Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith
  • W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
  • Ruth Plumly Thompson, The Lost King of Oz (19th in the Oz series and fifth written by her)
  • A. A. Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh story The Wrong Sort of Bees,” published in the London Evening News

 

Leave a Comment

Book Manufacturing

If you ever get the chance to visit a printing press, do it. I’ve had the privilege to visit two of them. The first was Standard Publishing’s printing press in Cincinnati. Their plant is quite large and they do a wide variety of printing, everything from books to curriculum to Star Wars coloring books.

The other plant was Bethany Press International in Bloomington, MN. During my years with Bethany House Publishers I visited this plant many times since their building is about 100 yards from the back door of the publishing house! I watched them move from the old “film” method of processing to a completely digital technology.

The beauty of watching the books being printed is partly the fascination of cool machines, but also an insight into all of the incredible details that go into the manufacturing process.

Read More

Bestselling Books of 2003

Another in a twice-yearly offering looking back at a certain year and its bestselling books. There’s no better way to get an idea where we are now than looking back to see from whence we came. Fifteen years ago this week: New York Times Bestseller List, July 6, 2003 Fiction …

Read More

Publishers and Theology

One of the more complex aspects of publishing Christian-themed books is the publisher theological position or “grid” which covers whatever products they seek to publish. Just like all churches are not alike, Christian publishers are definitely not alike. Some may have groups or “imprints” focusing on a specific theological perspective, …

Read More

Writers as Students of History

Anyone reading my posts on this agency blog will get a sense of my opinion and perspective on the publishing life. Of the fifty or so blog posts I write each year, many connect something in publishing to a historical event or attempt to draw some sort of application or …

Read More

You Think The World is Bad Now?

History has always fascinated me. Once you look deeply into it, you see the seeds of an important event being planted years, decades or even centuries before. Nothing happens out of thin air. For instance, it is widely agreed World War Two was a direct result of the way World …

Read More

1993: A Good Year for Books

Today we take a glimpse at early 1993 and the books defining culture and thought twenty-five years ago. It’s impossible to know where you are going if you don’t know from where you came…in life or publishing! The January 3, 1993 New York Times Bestseller List: Fiction DOLORES CLAIBORNE, by …

Read More

The Island of Lost Boys

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother The road is long With many a winding turn That leads us to who knows where Who knows where But I’m strong Strong enough to carry him He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother So on we go His welfare is of my concern No …

Read More

Retail is Dead! Or is it?

You’ve read the news. This calendar year bankruptcies or total closures were announced by Toys R Us, Gymboree, Bebe, American Apparel, Guess, Rue 21, The Limited, Gander Mountain, Vitamin World, and Family Christian Stores. Sears and Kmart announced last Friday that they were closing another 63 stores in January, on …

Read More

The Challenge for American Christian Authors

The majority of Christian books published every year are written in English by authors in the United States. U.S. Christian publishers in a billion dollar industry publish many thousands of new titles every year. Still, I am not sure all American authors who desire to have their books spread across …

Read More