George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue Is In The Public Domain And Gerswhin's Nephew Is Worried Someone Might Turn It Into Hip Hop

from the culture,-live-with-it dept

Last week we announced our latest Gaming Like It's 1924: Public Domain Game Jam, and among the newly public domain works first released in 1924 is George Gershwin's classic Rhapsody in Blue, which you might better know as the United Airlines theme song.

This is extremely noteworthy, because during the debate over the Mickey Mouse Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act fight in 1998, the Gershwin Estate was among the most vocal supporters and lobbyists in seeking an extension for the copyright. Indeed, the head of the Gershwin Estate, George's nephew Marc was particularly worried about losing artistic control over his uncle's work. Indeed, he seemed particularly worried that someone might make rap music out of his uncle's work:

Marc G. Gershwin, a nephew of George and Ira Gershwin and a co-trustee of the Gershwin Family Trust, said: ''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 performance only with a black cast and chorus. That could be debased. Or someone could turn 'Porgy and Bess' into rap music.''

Oh, the horror. That same article noted that Gershwin seemed to be ramping up the licensing fees for his uncle's work in the meantime:

Fifteen years ago, the license fee for using a Gershwin song in a television commercial for one year could be $45,000 to $75,000. The same song might now go for $200,000 to $250,000.

But, sure, it's not about the money (though I'll note that Marc recently sold his $5.4 million apartment in Manhattan). Of course, this is even more ridiculous when you realize that Gershwin frequently drew on influences of various other artists, including for Rhapsody in Blue (as for Porgy & Bess, we still have a few more years until that hits the public domain). George Gershwin himself admitted that Rhapsody in Blue was inspired by a variety of other music:

I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness.

As the good folks over at the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain note, Rhapsody in Blue did draw on a variety of other types of music and now you can too, no matter what Marc Gershwin and the Gershwin Estate think:

Indeed, Rhapsody is a musical melting pot: it draws on everything from African American blues, jazz, and ragtime styles, to French impressionists and European art music, to Jewish musical traditions, to Tin Pan Alley. Now that it is in the public domain, this wonderful composition can be part of your kaleidoscope, where you can draw upon it to create something new, just as Gershwin drew upon his influences.

Of course, it does seem notable that the Gershwin publishing catalog was sold off a few months ago to Downton Music Publishing, who, it seems likely, will try to squeeze the last bit of cash out of it before it drip, drip, drips into the public domain for everyone to use.

Filed Under: control, copyright, george gershwin, marc gershwin, public domain, rhapsody in blue


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  • icon
    genghis_uk (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 12:52pm

    For some reason I am getting an urge to fire up my studio PC and start on a DnB or ProgTrance version of Rhapsody...

    Not a Hip Hop person but I am sure this would be suitably annoying to Marc :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Max, 8 Jan 2020 @ 12:58pm

    Oh, someone totally should, just to make a point. And then find someone else who can make it go viral on YouTube. Hmmm, how about Psy...? The world totally needs more Gershwin Gangnam Style!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 4:14pm

      Re:

      who can make it go viral on YouTube.

      Only if its been removed from ContentId. (Have I just predicted the next copyright story).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:00pm

    Maybe Gershwin mistitled his last song and he really meant to call it "Copyright Is Here To Stay".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    redrum, 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:02pm

    How free is the PD?

    Can you just take public domain material and do with it what you want? Like if you find a stash of books from the 1800's, can you record a song out of a poem you find there? No permission required? Would you call it "Traditional" or cite the original author? No royalties to the authors descendants?

    And no, I'm not musician with a pile of old books, I'm just curious.. TIA

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:05pm

      Re: How free is the PD?

      Yes to all of the above. Public Domain is Public Domain. You can do anything with a book from the 1800s that you could do with a book by Homer or Aristotle.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:36pm

        Re: Re: How free is the PD?

        Homer and Aristotle may natively be in the public domain (and always were), but one had best check the translation copyrights.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:47pm

          Re: Re: Re: How free is the PD?

          one had best check the translation copyrights

          True. But assuming we're talking about any piece of material that is itself definitely in the public domain, then there are no restrictions or requirements regarding how you can use it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        m_a_s (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:20pm

        Re: Re: How free is the PD?

        I'm fairly sure that Homer is not in the public domain. Just ask Marge.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 5:45am

        Re: Re: How free is the PD?

        Yes to all of the above. Public Domain is Public Domain. You can do anything with a book from the 1800s that you could do with a book by Homer or Aristotle.

        That's why we have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Without copyright, that gloriously crazy, great fun mash-up wouldn't have happened.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 4:29am

          Re: Re: Re: How free is the PD?

          Also, adaptations and inspirations don't have to be so obvious - for example, Clueless is a mash up of Austen's Emma. Removing the public domain is to remove the DNA of most culture.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2020 @ 8:18am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: How free is the PD?

            Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare's The Tempest in outer space.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              PaulT (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 8:54am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: How free is the PD?

              Oh yes, I was purely riffing on the mention of Austen.

              Shakespeare is a whole other can of worms, ranging from Throne Of Blood (Macbeth) to The Lion King (Hamlet) to West Side Story (Romero & Juliet). All of which were made because Shakespeare's estate had no say in what happened to his plays after they rightfully returned to the public domain. There are many other examples, of authors and adaptations.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 12:48pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: How free is the PD?

              Brush up your Shakespeare
              Start quoting him now
              Brush up your Shakespeare
              And the women you will wow

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              m_a_s (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 6:24pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: How free is the PD?

              Shakespeare was also not hindered by copying the ideas of others.
              Plutarch, Cinthio, Matteo Bandello, Erasmus, and many many more.
              Just imagine where he would have been had the estates and some contemporary authors were able to sue him.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2020 @ 1:14am

        Re: Re: How free is the PD?

        There's one thing you can't do. Claim copyright on the original work. That would actually constitute fraud.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:06pm

      Re: How free is the PD?

      (Oh except "no" to the part about citing the author - you can if you want but you don't have to. There are no restrictions on what you can do.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:21pm

    I've got some bad news for Marc Gerswhin...

    https://www.whosampled.com/George-Gershwin/sampled/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 1:46pm

      Re:

      Not quite the same as a wholesale cover in a different genre, but lol.

      Wonder now how much other's have paid for the mechanical licenses to do covers, and how Marc has denied any potential past licensing arrangements for "bad" styles of covers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:01pm

      Re: Es Tuya Juan

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:13am

      Re:

      Yeah, I came in for that.

      Nothing like being "concerned" about something that "might" happen nearly 30 years after it already has.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:37am

      Re:

      "I've got some bad news for Marc Gerswhin..."

      Aside from the fact that Marc The Coattail Rider has managed to choke what could have been an ear worm of Rick Roll standards into pseudo-oblivion? I mean, everyone knows the song but imagine how much money that tune could have drawn in?

      "Fifteen years ago, the license fee for using a Gershwin song in a television commercial for one year could be $45,000 to $75,000. The same song might now go for $200,000 to $250,000. "

      When you can pay a tenth of that to any of ten thousand aspiring talented artists to write a jingle for your ads all this tells us is tat young Marc has expensive tastes and doesn't have a job covering them.

      Caramba. It's shit like this which clearly brings the bullshit of copyright into the light. What part of this is "protecting culture and furthering the arts"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 5:46am

        Re: Re:

        We've found the Magic Money Tree, SDM.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 4:56am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "We've found the Magic Money Tree, SDM."

          Yup. And it's filled with the hideous little monkeys who climbed up it and then kicked down the ladder so no one else could follow.

          But, you know Wendy..."being the snot-nosed lesser scion of greater sires" may be a money tree, but it's hardly a new thing to find. :)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 5:23am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Indeed. One of the reasons I'd do a jig of joy if copyright were abolished tomorrow is that they'd be forced to grow the hell up, leave home, and oh, the horror -- get a damn job!

            Copyright was never meant to be some kind of social welfare net. If artists want life insurance, life assurance, or pension schemes, etc., they should figure that stuff out or perhaps their publishers, etc., can partner with service providers that offer those schemes. It's not copyright's job to fill in for those.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 4:39am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "One of the reasons I'd do a jig of joy if copyright were abolished tomorrow is that they'd be forced to grow the hell up, leave home, and oh, the horror -- get a damn job!"

              Concur completely.

              I've identified two driving forces for copyright.

              The first of it is the cult itself. A sectarian movement of loosely allied private actors which resembles the college of cardinals in the 15th century - hell-bent on controlling the narrative of what is arguably the greatest moneymaking machine of the time.

              The second is every last creative "genius" which believes, of all their heart, that they are uniquely special snowflakes who can churn out a jingle and expect the crass unwashed public to pay their keep for perpetuity. The useful idiots who stand up and do most of the copyright cult's PR pro bono out of a sense of outrage that their genius isn't recognized by the peons who spend the money.

              There is only one industry where an individual can claim a profession and then expect, in full earnestness, that because they've spent a few years learning the ropes they've somehow earned it as a paying full-time job.

              For every other job outside of the entertainment industry - whether STEM-based ones, IT, transport, education, finance etc - you know damn well you might end up with 4 years of university and still have to do another job than the one you studied for.

              But not in entertainment. Oh, no. The special snowflakes and divas demand a career in their chosen vocation.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:22pm

    But What About American Airlines?

    Now that Rhapsody in Blue is PD, I'm awaiting all the fake AA commercials with "their" jingle in it. And I'm amazed that there isn't a "RAP-sody in Blue" already.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:23pm

    Wait a second, if copyright is life of the author (or whatever) plus n (last I remember 75 years) number of years, why is only one of Gershwin's songs in the public domain? Gershwin died in 1937, only 81 years ago at the age of 39. So what's the hold up?

    Somehow I suspect that Marc Gershwin is rhapsodizing quixotically about why his uncle had to die so young.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:04am

      Re:

      It is life+70 for works published after January 1st 1978, published prior to that it is publication + 95 years (always rounded up the the next new year).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:31pm

    If that Jonny S. Bach dude's reputation can survive being Moog-synthesized, whistled, Jazzed-and-drummed-up (not to mention being sung by musical illiterates in churches every Sunday), then Georgio will just have to take his chances with the punk-rappers. In any case, G. G. is just another corpse, and his feelings are beyond our ability to offend.

    But I think Wilde's aphorism still applies: the only thing worse that being rapped-about is ... not being rapped-about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:38pm

      Re:

      "...the only thing worse that being rapped-about is ... not being rapped-about."

      As in any publicity is good publicity? Too bad no-one in the Gershwin family will benefit from it, unless of course, they start rapping. (Now why didn't Marc think of that?)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stan (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:35pm

    "Or someone could turn 'Porgy and Bess' into rap music.''

    OMG...what's next??? Someone turning Beethoven's 5th into "A Fifth of Beethoven"?

    Oh, wait...too late. Roll over Beethoven, tell George Gershwin the newwssss.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      dan8mx (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 5:36pm

      Re:

      So, I just pulled up "Summertime" on YouTube and started beatboxing to it. I don't want to alarm anyone, but it just... worked. YouTube didn't crash, my phone didn't catch on fire, nothing.

      I was assured that copyright could prevent this. Maybe I have powers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:43am

        Re: Re:

        "I was assured that copyright could prevent this. Maybe I have powers."

        Yup. Pirate powers, no less.

        It's the fact that most of modern technology allows people to copy, paste, and run in such a smoothly automated fashion which has all those sectarians from the copyright cult in frothing hysterics.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:40pm

    the Gershwin publishing catalog was sold off a few months ago to Downton Music Publishing, who, it seems likely, will try to squeeze the last bit of cash out of it before it drip, drip, drips into the public domain for everyone to use

    I fully expect them to try and continue to sell licenses for works that have entered the public domain and be successful at it since too many people don't bother to check whether they really need a license before purchasing one. We've seen it before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 5:05pm

      Re:

      I fully expect them to try and continue to sell licenses for works that have entered the public domain and be successful at it since too many people don't bother to check whether they really need a license before purchasing one. We've seen it before.

      there's a name for that type of thing

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 8:44pm

        Re: Re:

        In fact, if a DMCA complaint is filed over this, we may actually be able to use the “bad faith” provision of the DMCA for once.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Jan 2020 @ 4:42am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "...we may actually be able to use the “bad faith” provision of the DMCA for once."

          In practice almost impossible. "Bad Faith" is very hard to prove because you need to demonstrate verifiable intent to defraud.

          And this was known when the DMCA was written which is why that paragraph amounts little more than being window dressing covering up part of that ghastly travesty of bad legislation.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 4:58am

        Re: Re:

        "there's a name for that type of thing"

        Copyright enforcement?

        The rest of us laymen may be calling it "fraud" but we should probably accept that every business has their own jargon...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 10 Jan 2020 @ 10:31am

        Re: Re:

        Indeed, 'profitable', as even if they got caught odds are low that any penalty would match what they gained.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 5:36pm

    I remember in 2003 when Nas released that song with the annoying-as-hell Beethoven Fur Elise sample.

    Marc should really take a leaf out of Coolio's book when the latter came to terms with "Weird Al" Yankovic's usage of Gangsta Paradise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 5:38pm

    First to air rap version may file bogus lawsuits against others?

    To most TD readers, it is an obvious idea, but there are gullible judges and gullible juries out there...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 5:52pm

      Re: First to air rap version may file bogus lawsuits against oth

      After the insanity of Blurred Lines, and pending the decision for Taylor Swift, it's honestly anyone's guess. If it's in the 9th Circuit at this point you could probably sue someone for using the same snare drum let alone the same Gerswhin sample.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 8 Jan 2020 @ 5:46pm

    Pah.

    Most of the Gershwin compositions had their lyrics written by Ira Gershwin who died in 1983 (way after Mickey Mouse), almost half a century later than his brother George.

    So you may rap to Gershwin's tunes but don't take the lyrics.

    The day the lyrics will become Public Domain is called "Dies Irae" by the Gershwin estate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:02am

      Re: Pah.

      That is not how US copyright works. For any work published prior to 1978, death dates are not relevant, but the publication date is, and you have to add 95 years to that, rounded up to the next new year. That is why 1924 is now open for harvesting by all... After January 1st 1978, this changes to live + 70 of the longest living author (unless they change that again, it will be 2074 before that kicks in, making it much harder to determine PD status of works)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mrharrysan (profile), 8 Jan 2020 @ 7:55pm

    Rap Sodee in Blew

    Working on some beats just to piss off that guy. I will post them here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mazoola, 9 Jan 2020 @ 12:47am

    I assume this applies...

    ... only to the 1924 orchestration, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 6:24am

    I missed the resemblance

    which you might better know as the United Airlines theme song.

    Do you mean United Breaks Guitars?

    I fail to hear the resemblance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 5:35pm

    Gerswhin's Nephew Is Worried Someone Might Turn It Into Hip Hop

    Art is art. Music is music. One can only hope.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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