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As Copyrights Expire In 2019, American Works Will Re-Enter The Public Domain

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Our next story starts with a poem you might recognize.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

(Reading) The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.

KELLY: Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening" - first published in 1923. This poem and other works of art from that year, 1923, are on the verge of a renaissance.

SHAPIRO: At midnight on January 1, literature, music, film and other work copyrighted in that year will enter the public domain, so anyone will be free to distribute them, build upon them, quote them at length, all without worrying about an angry letter from a lawyer.

KELLY: Which means you can expect to hear more versions of early 20th-century music such as "Yes! We Have No Bananas."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YES! WE HAVE NO BANANAS")

BILLY JONES: (Singing) Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.

SHAPIRO: "The Charleston."

(SOUNDBITE OF CECIL MACK AND JAMES P. JOHNSON'S "THE CHARLESTON")

KELLY: And "Who's Sorry Now?" which became popular in the 1950s but was actually first published in, yes, 1923.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO'S SORRY NOW?")

MARION HARRIS: (Singing) Who's sorry now? Who's sorry now?

KELLY: People interested in 1923 have been waiting for this moment.

SHAPIRO: Long story very short - all of this art was supposed to have entered the public domain back in 1999, but then, copyright holders got Congress to delay the release another 20 years.

KELLY: Which means art from 1923 will be released next year, 1924, the year after, and so on. Duke law professor Jennifer Jenkins says having art in the public domain is essential to making new art.

JENNIFER JENKINS: The public domain is kind of awesome when you think about it. Think about all the works that, you know, were based on Shakespeare or on Jane Austen or on Charles Dickens or the "Odyssey," which was in the public domain because it was from before copyright protection. What do we have from the "Odyssey?" We have Mark Twain's "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn" and James Joyce's "Ulysses" and Coen brothers "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

SHAPIRO: Some more classic literature set to enter the public domain next week - Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet," Agatha Christie's "The Murder On The Links" and works by Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling to name just a few.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YES! WE HAVE NO BANANAS")

JONES: (Singing) We have no bananas today. We've string beans and onions, cabbages and scallions and all kinds of fruits and say we have an old-fashioned tomato, a Long Island potato... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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