Updated: Jul 4, 2022
Exciting news! George Gershwin's, "Rhapsody in Blue," entered the public domain in the U.S. on January 1, 2020, along with a majority of other materials first published in 1924. Once in the ‘public domain’, with certain exceptions, creative works previously protected by copyright law can be used without permission and at no cost.
My strongest memories of this iconic composition are from the epic scene in The Great Gatsby when Jay is first introduced. And quite the opposite of that scene I’m always reminded of flying. United Airlines re-mastered the track a couple years ago after over 40 years of use in commercials, in-flight safety videos, and even in their terminal at O’Hare in my hometown of Chicago. I wonder if knowing it would become public domain in 2020, had anything to do with their decision to use it in the first place? Though, since they are a global company, its new PD status doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be able to use it without paying any publishing fees.
Here are few important caveats to consider when using public domain works in advertising:
Sound Recordings - Sound recordings follow different, slightly more complex rules than those for the composition, even if they were recorded in the U.S. in 1924. For example, while the composition itself is now PD, a sound recording of “Rhapsody in Blue” from 1924 wouldn’t enter the public domain until January 1, 2025.
Derivative Works - It’s extremely important to use the original work, as published. Derivative works (i.e. adaptations, arrangement, etc, created later by others) may still have content that is protected by copyright law.
International Copyright Law - Please note that use of works in the public domain is granted by U.S. Copyright law for use in the U.S. only. A composition that is PD in the U.S., might not be cleared for use globally.
Here is a fun list of all the works that have entered the public domain from 1924 (and prior), but remember, it’s important that you use the original composition from the year of publication to ensure that the work is in fact public domain. When in doubt, speak to your lawyer or BA expert! #hailstormio #modernBA