The year 1925 was significant in American history: Calvin Coolidge became president, the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing, the Scopes Trial began, the Chrysler Corporation was founded, and New York City officially became the largest city in the world. It was also a big year for the arts: F. Scott Fitzgerlad published “The Great Gatsby,” Virginia Woolf published “Mrs. Dalloway,” “Go West” hit theaters, and Jelly Roll Morton had audiences dancing to “Shreveport Stomps.” Now, in 2021, those works, and hundreds of others like them, are hitting the public domain.
Being in the public domain means that no one individual or corporation holds intellectual rights to the work any longer. Therefore, the work in question can be used without permission. When work enters the public domain, it becomes, essentially, owned by the public. (There are caveats, of course. If an artist repurposes works in the public domain for something new, for example, the artist’s new work won’t fall in the public domain.)
Originally, these works would have been free to use 75 years after publication, or in 2001. However, in 1998, Congress extended the copyright laws an additional 20 years, keeping these works out of the public domain for that much longer.
In honor of this year’s class of works—arguably one of the best to date—entering the public domain, Stacker compiled a list of 50 of the most-listened to songs in the Public Domain, chosen from the Public Domain’s list of the 698 most popular songs within. From “Happy Birthday” to “Pomp and Circumstance,” read on to learn a bit more about these classic songs.
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