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:


  • 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


  • 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


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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.

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