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Thousands of classics from Gershwin to Wharton enter public domain

The beginning of 2020 marks the entrance of thousands of previously copyrighted works into the public domain, including classic musical compositions, films and books.

Among the 95-year-old pieces that people are now free to use, remix or share without specific permission or payment include works such as George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock, Jr.” and E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India.” People can even edit the works and profit off of their changes, if they choose. 

Other works include Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain,” A. A. Milne’s “When We Were Very Young,” a film adaptation of “Dante’s Inferno” and Edith Wharton’s “Old New York.”

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Jennifer Jenkins, a clinical professor of law and director at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University told WNYC that the release of the 95-year-old movies, books and more means that “anyone can rediscover or breathe new life into a treasure trove of past works.”

The collection of 1924 works was originally slated to become public domain content in 2000, 75-years after their original release. However, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which added 20 years onto copyright terms, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

The legislation created a gap between the release of works from 1922 to those released in 1923, which became part of the public domain on Jan. 1, 2019. The Gershwin family was part of an effort that also includes Disney and other corporations to lobby lawmakers to extend copyrights, Mic reported.

Every Jan. 1 until 2073, new works will enter the public domain. Copyrights will begin to expire on a 70-year timeline in 2073.

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