If you're a fan of the arts, a tradition on parallel with the dropping of the ball in Times Square which was admittedly eerie this year) is the ushering in of the unofficial holiday of Public Domain Day on January 1st.
What exactly is Public Domain Day, you may be wondering? If you're a studious follower of intellectual property news, there's an excellent chance you're well aware of its implications, but for the purposes of this article, I will labor on as though you are as yet unfamiliar, which, in that case, I'm glad you asked! Public Domain Day is the day in which a spate of previously copyrighted works enter the public domain for reproduction or use by any who so choose.
Why this is the case relates to existing copyright law for older works, which stipulates that copyright for works between 1923 and 1977 is to last for ninety-five years. This means that works created in 1925 are now, in the year 2021, free and clear for use by the greater public. And, like a particularly robust Hall of Fame class, this year's entries into the public domain features some luminaries, with names like Woolf, Hemingway, Kafka, Dreiser, Wharton and others on the list.
The headliner, however, is F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, purported to be one of the Great American Novels by those who claim to know such things. Anyone who has ever taken a high school English class can attest to its prominence, at least, so it's hard to say that its entry into the public domain will bestow upon it a prevalence it never lost.
What the public domain does offer, for Gatsby and other works, is the chance for new creators to offer their own take on the works, or to even add to the canon. As might be expected, Ian Carlos Campbell of The Verge has given voice to an urgent need for our greatest acting troupe — the Muppets — to offer its own take on Jay Gatsby's gilded cage, and on this matter I have to believe every person can agree. On the literary side, some ambitious writer will surely think they have their own taken on a sequel, even if the attempt is ultimately misguided.
The beauty of public domain is that it offers all these possibilities and more to creative types, leaving us as the consuming public richer for it. While the rights of creators are important, including the right to profit off of their work, each of the individuals involved is now deceased, in many cases for decades; why not let the greater public profit from their genius, rather than letting artists take their work with them to the grave?