“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin is entering the public domain, along with other works from 1924, and not everyone is happy about it.
With the coming of the new year, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is now freely available to adapt. This has upset the Gershwin estate, and not just because it stands to lose a lot of money. They are worried that someone will adapt the composer’s music in ways that Gershwin would never approve of.
Marc G. Gershwin, who is a nephew of the composer and one of the trustees of the Gershwin Family Trust, says, “The monetary part is important, but if works of art are in the public domain, you can take them and do whatever you want with them. For instance, we’ve always licensed Porgy and Bess for stage performances only with a black cast and chorus. That could be debased. Or someone could turn Porgy and Bess into rap music.”
But some think a modernization of Porgy and Bess by those who are actually black could actually strengthen the production.
Interestingly, “Rhapsody in Blue” should have gone into the public domain 20 years ago. But after lobbying from entities such as the Gershwin Family Trust and Disney, U.S. Congress extended copyright protection from 75 years to 95 years.
In addition to music, many famous books have also entered the public domain, such as those from Thomas Mann and E. M. Forster, as well as movies from Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
Gershwin made news in April of 2019 when Downtown Music Publishing obtained the rights to represent Gershwin’s music catalog. Though much of this catalog is from the 1930s, so it is still under copyright — at least for a little while longer. This includes Porgy and Bess.
UPDATE: The story was corrected to reflect the fact that Porgy and Bess has not yet entered public domain.