Copyright terms (e.g. years of protection) for music differ in Canada and the United States. That’s an issue that’s being partially addressed in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), the successor to NAFTA (more on that in a future post).

But an issue that will persist is that the term of copyright in the United States is vastly different depending upon which statutory regime was in place at the time of the work’s creation. In the U.S., copyrighted works created in 1925 enter the public domain as of Jan 1, 2021 (95 years after the year of their creation).

What that means is that works can enter the public domain in Canada and United States at different times. That’s not always useful; worrying that your non-infringing activities in the USA could be infringing if they cross the border back into the Canada (and, often, vice versa) is not ideal.

Still it’s great to know when U.S. copyright expires – and 2021 brings with it the expiration of copyright for a number of works in the United States.

The biggest names aren’t necessarily in music (books like The Great Gatsby are making bigger headlines). But there’s some great music entering the U.S. public domain in 2021. Below is a partial list courtesy of Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. (Note – this list refers to certain compositions, but later versions and recordings of the same songs may still be subject to copyright.)

So are works made in 1925 now public domain in Canada? Not necessarily… With various exceptions (as always), Canadian copyright currently expires based on the life of the author plus 50 years.

  • Always, by Irving Berlin
  • Sweet Georgia Brown, by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard & Kenneth Casey
  • Works by Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” including Army Camp Harmony Blues (with Hooks Tilford) and Shave ’Em Dry (with William Jackson)
  • Looking for a Boy, by George & Ira Gershwin (from the musical Tip-Toes)
  • Manhattan, by Lorenz Hart & Richard Rodgers
  • Ukulele Lady, by Gus Kahn & Richard Whiting
  • Yes Sir, That’s My Baby, by Gus Kahn & Walter Donaldson
  • Works by ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton, including Shreveport Stomps and Milenberg Joys (with Paul Mares, Walter Melrose, & Leon Roppolo)
  • Works by W.C. Handy, including Friendless Blues (with Mercedes Gilbert), Bright Star of Hope (with Lillian A. Thorsten), and When the Black Man Has a Nation of His Own (with J.M. Miller)
  • Works by Duke Ellington, including Jig Walk and With You (both with Joseph “Jo” Trent)
  • Works by ‘Fats’ Waller, including Anybody Here Want To Try My Cabbage (with Andrea “Andy” Razaf), Ball and Chain Blues (with Andrea “Andy” Razaf), and Campmeetin’ Stomp
  • Works by Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues,” including Dixie Flyer BluesTired of Voting Blues, and Telephone Blues
  • Works by Lovie Austin, including Back Biting Woman’s BluesSouthern Woman’s Blues, and Tennessee Blues
  • Works by Sidney Bechet, including Waltz of Love (with Spencer Williams), Naggin’ at Me (with Rousseau Simmons), and Dreams of To-morrow (with Rousseau Simmons)
  • Works by Fletcher Henderson, including Screaming the Blues (with Fay Barnes)
  • Works by Sippie Wallace, including Can Anybody Take Sweet Mama’s Place (with Clarence Williams)
  • Works by Mrs. H.H.A. (Amy) Beach, including Lord of the Worlds Above, Op. 109 (words by Isaac Watts, 1674–1748), The Greenwood, Op. 110 (words by William Lisle Bowles, 1762–1850), The Singer, Op. 117 (words by Muna Lee, 1895–1965), and Song in the Hills, Op. 117, No. 3 (words by Muna Lee, 1895–1965)
Creative Commons License

This list, extracted from Public Domain Day 2021 by Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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