The Timeliness of The Great Gatsby Going Into the Public Domain in the 20s

As the first decade of the 2020s gets underway, it seems all too timely that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most major work, The Great Gatsby, will at last enter the public domain on January 1, 2021. As one of the most quintessential novels not only of the flapper decade, but the twentieth century itself, its foray into the free-for-all realm in “the new 20s” has more than a certain tinge of poeticism to it. Even more so because of the fact that The Great Gatsby is an anomaly with regard to being one of Fitzgerald’s few works of the 20s (including This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned) not to have already been released into the public domain.

And no, the reason for its “preservation” is not because, as one might think, The Great Gatsby is too sacred a work in comparison to the others (something Baz Luhrmann disproved in 2013), but as a result of–of all people–Sonny Bono’s legislation while serving as a Congressman in California (which was almost as strange as him serving as mayor of Palm Springs).

For it was he who helmed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of1998 (the year he died, incidentally), extending the release of certain works into the public domain by another twenty years from the original stipulations of the Copyright Act of 1976. One of said works being, naturally, The Great Gatsby.

The goading alternate name for the Bono-launched initiative is the Mickey Mouse Protection Act (thanks to this legislation re-upping the number of years it would take for Mickey Mouse, first appearing in 1928, to enter the public domain [which won’t be until 2024]). And the only thing more American than Mickey Mouse and apple pie is the Great American novel (at least by twentieth century standards). Something that no author has better kept the myth alive of than old F. Scott.

That said, with The Great Gatsby soon to be available to your average writerly schmo (so many of said schmoes who have not written and cannot write a Great American novel, let alone a Great American email), it can only be nothing if not mildly interesting to see how the material (technically the brainchild of Zelda) will be manipulated and bastardized for this 20s redux. One only wishes that part of said 20s redux included the kind of debauchery of Fitzgerald’s version of the decade that could actually inspire a new generation writing as rich with worthwhile imagery, as filled with indelible descriptions forever etched in one’s mind–cropping up when one least expects it from certain triggers. Yet, alas, one envisions any modern repurposing of The Great Gatsby to involve Jay being some sort of catfishing internet stalker who had one exchange with Daisy in high school and held onto it for decades.

Or, perhaps the Jay/Daisy dynamic would simply be loosely modeled on Elon Musk and Grimes (the former being the most eccentric living rich person we have, as well as someone who is sure to mold what the forthcoming ten years hold). Maybe they’ll even play themselves in the next film adaptation of it. And then suddenly one realizes it can never really be the 20s again and, subsequently, wishes that Sonny Bono had extended the number of years for The Great Gatsby‘s release into the public domain to, oh, let’s say infinity. And beyond. For that’s where the next great round of literature truly resides: in the ether of alternate reality.

One thought on “The Timeliness of The Great Gatsby Going Into the Public Domain in the 20s

  1. We have levels of wealth inequality in US and UK that would make gilded age barons envious. It didn’t end well last time and all the signs (Brexit, Trump) suggest it won’t end well this time either.

    Gary Shteyngart writes well on the new class of super-rich IMHO. As for Musk – don’t get me started. Snake oil, smoke and mirrors. The environmentalist who sells flamethrowers when his business is low on cash. He’ll be shooting off to Mars when the shit hits the fan, leaving the plebs to choke on his exhaust fumes.

    I watched Carlos Ghosn blowing his own trumpet on French TV in a bar in Paris. Outside protesters were smashing up banks. Not sure how much longer these twenties are going to roar for. But yes, let’s hope it makes for some good writing at least!

    My own favourite Fitzgerald – Tender is the Night – came out in the 30s once the party was well and truly over…

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