Dec 28, 2019

Tunes published in 1924 will be entering the public domain in 2020

United States copyright law is quite restrictive as compared to many other countries. According to the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1988 (aka "Mickey Mouse Protection Act"), works published or registered before 1978 remain under copyright for 95 years.

Since the passage of the 1988 law, the cutoff date for works entering the public domain has been 1922, with any works published in 1923 or later remaining under copyright. Beginning in 2019, the clock began running again, with each new year bringing one more year of songs and other works into the public domain. Over the next 20 years or so, most "Golden Age" jazz standards will lose copyright protection.

As of January 1, 2020, U.S. copyright will expire for the following works published in 1924. These songs are all on the "Top 1000" list at jazzstandards.com:

All Alone (Irving Berlin)
Everybody Loves My Baby (Spencer Williams)
Fascinatin' Rhythm (Gershwin)
How Come You Do Me Like You Do (Austin, Bergere)
I Want To Be Happy (Youmans)
I'll See You In My Dreams (Isham Jones)
It Had To Be You (Isham Jones)
The Man I Love (Gershwin)
Nobody's Sweetheart Now (Erdman, Kahn)
Oh, Lady Be Good (Gershwin)
The One I Love (Belongs To Someone Else) (Isham Jones)
Somebody Loves Me (Gershwin)
South (Moten)
Tea For Two (Youmans)
What'll I Do (Irving Berlin)
When Day Is Done (Katscher, De Sylva)

As you can see, 1924 was a very good year for George Gershwin, and not bad either for Isham Jones. We may see an increase in Gershwin tribute albums this year.

There's a nice youtube playlist for 1924 tunes here.

In the realm of classical music, Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" is losing copyright protection, also Respighi's "Pines of Rome" and Puccini's "Turandot."

And we certainly should not leave out "The Prisoner's Song" (Guy Massey), a country classic.

Last December I posted an article similar to this one, listing tunes that became public domain in 2019. This subject has the potential for a yearly update - unless Congress messes with copyright law again, to rescue Mickey Mouse from becoming fair game in 2024.

Many other countries have shorter terms of copyright; one common formula is the life of the author plus fifty years (see this table). For example, in Canada you can record songs written by Wes Montgomery (d. 1968), without paying royalties.

Copyright Law of the United States (Wikipedia)


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