George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ Enters the Public Domain (UPDATED)

George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' Enters the Public Domain
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George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' Enters the Public Domain
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Photo of George Gershwin

“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.

6 Responses

  1. Charlie Sanders

    It will be interesting to see how the Estate responds when Summertime and Rhapsody are inevitably utilized in commercial advertising (bathroom products, etc.), and whether it will try to enjoin such uses through other means, such as by reviving trademark-based “confusion to the public” arguments.

  2. Tom Hendricks

    Test to see if corporations control the government or people;
    When Micky Mouse is in the public domain you will know that people have taken back their country and it is not run by lobbyists.

  3. John Matarazzo

    The works of many of the great composers in western music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, to name a few) have been in the public domain for centuries.
    They have been used and abused but the original works still stand and are stilled heard, appreciated and loved by millions of people. If someone wants to do
    their own version of a Gershwin work that is now in the public domain, let them. Let’s see what they have to offer.

    • News to me

      Public domain?
      Those rich copy bots have not shut that down?

    • Blobbo

      Yeah, if you mess with a famous piece of music like Rhapsody in Blue and don’t do it justice, you just basically brand yourself for life as a hack, so let the chips fall where they may.

      There should be an addition to copyright law, however, that allows artists to play or interpret work, but also possibly protect them from commercial exploitation, especially by advertising. I guess I’ll be hearing for Rhapsody in Blue in commercials. United Airlines could revive its old campaign for free. Their use wasn’t disrespectful per se, not that I’m a fan of that company.

  4. Dennis Collopy

    I wonder whether the Gershwin estate might try blocking ‘offending’ uses in countries like France where they have strong moral rights. That leaves just the USA where moral rights are under developed especially as pertains to music rights