On January 1, 2022, copyrighted works from 1926 will enter the US public domain. That means that anyone can copy, share, and build upon that work, but it doesn’t mean the public can do the same for things that are already derived from the original. What do I mean by that? Well, the first Winnie-the-Pooh book from A. A. Milne will enter the public domain, but that doesn’t mean all of the cartoons are. Or maybe more specifically, Felix Salten wrote a book called “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” about a cute little orphaned dear growing up in the woods. But don’t you dare try to use Disney’s interpretation of it.
More into music? Good news! The Gershwins’ music going into the public domain include the composition of Someone To Watch Over Me and the sound recordings for Swanee by Al Jolson (but written by George Gershwin, B.G. De Sylva, Irving Caesar). Why do I say composition versus sound recording? Recorded music is covered by two distinct copyrights. One copyright protects the original composition— that is, the words and music, and the second protects the actual recording of the song. So for Swanee, Gershwin, De Sylva, and Caesar own the words and music, but Mr. Jolson had copyright over his recording. Same is true for Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston for I Will Always Love You (FYI: neither of those will be in the public domain for a very long time). So let’s celebrate by listening to Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton’s Jelly Roll Blues and dreaming of the new ways to address The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (A. Christie) or My Mortal Enemy (W. Cather) with The Plumed Serpent (D.H. Lawrence) .