After 95 years, writers finally get the green light to lift from ‘The Great Gatsby’

After 95 years, writers finally get the green light to lift(lift) from ‘The Great Gatsby’

Laws that prevent(prəˈvent) artists from borrowing from classic works, even decades after the original author’s death, chill(CHil) the broader culture.

By Alan Wirzbicki

Did Daisy(ˈdāzē) ever leave Tom? What happened to Nick after he retreated(rəˈtrēt) from New York? How did Jay Gatsby muscle(ˈməsəl) into the Roaring(ˈrôriNG) Twenties underworld to make his illicit(i(l)ˈlisit) fortune(ˈfôrCHən)? Was he — just maybe — a vampire(ˈvamˌpī(ə)r)?

At the stroke(strōk) of midnight on Jan. 1, writers and other artists got the green light to imagine their own answers to those questions, and to use the characters created by F. Scott Fitzgerald(fitsˈjer(ə)ld) in his 1925 novel(ˈnävəl) “The Great Gatsby” without asking for anyone’s permission(pərˈmiSHən). On cue(kyo͞o), an avalanche(ˈavəˌlan(t)SH) of Gatsby knockoffs, prequels(ˈprēkwəl), and yes, retellings with vampires hit the market, along with new editions of the original Jazz(jaz) Age novel itself.

But as welcome as the outpouring(ˈoutˌpôriNG) of pent(pent)-up creativity is, it’s also a reminder that the 95-year waiting period(ˈpirēəd) exacted a cost on American culture. Restrictive(rəˈstriktiv) US copyright laws locked “The Great Gatsby” out of the public domain for so long that the best moment for reworkings of the iconic(īˈkänik) novel may have already come and gone. Fitzgerald’s story is still a beloved classic, of course, and some of its themes — social and class divisions(dəˈviZHən), lost love — are timeless. But nearly a century after its publication, it’s also an artifact of a fading time that’s increasingly remote to the experiences of many readers, who may read it now as mostly a historical costume(ˈkäsˌt(y)o͞om) drama(ˈdrämə) of cloche(klōSH) hats and dapper(ˈdapər) tuxedos(təkˈsēdō).