Coming out of copyright -- some notable deaths from 1937

Those jurisdictions that have a life + 70 year period of post-mortem copyright protection will be welcoming into the public domain the works of the following people:

Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937)

Born into a large Scottish family, JM Barrie grew up listening to tales of adventure and fantasy told by his mother every evening. At the age of thirteen, Barrie left his home village to pursue his studies. In 1882 he received his MA from Dumfries Academy at the University of Edinburgh, following which he moved to London as a freelance writer. Six years later, Barrie’s first successful book was published – Auld Licht Idylls, a humorous sketch of Scottish life. After the dramatisation of his novel The Little Minister, Barrie focused on writing for the theatre. Peter Pan (or as it was first entitled, Peter and Wendy) was originally produced for the stage in 1904, and was not published as a story for seven years. The characters evolved from stories told by Barrie to the five young sons of his good friend Sylvia Llewelyn Davies.

Jean de Brunhoff (1899-1937)

From an early age, Jean de Brunhoff was always inseparable from his books. However, he first intended to become a professional artist, and he studied painting at the Academie de la Grand Chamiere. After his marriage to Cecile Sabourand and the birth of his sons, Brunhoff invented a bedtime story about a little elephant. His children, Laurent and Mathieu, took part in the creation of the storyline and Brunhoff himself named the elephant, illustrated the tale and turned it into a book. The original series traced six stages in the life of Babar the elephant: his birth, the loss of his mother, his journey to the city, his education, his return home, his marriage, his coronation, the birth of his children, and the development of his kingdom. After Brunhoff’s untimely death at the age of thirty-eight, his elder son Laurent expanded the series to the fifty-odd Babar books that exist today.

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Born ‘Jacob Gershowitz’ to a family of poor Jewish immigrants, George Gershwin went on to become one of America’s leading composers. He taught himself to play by ear and only began formal tuition at the age of twelve. Within a few years, Gershwin had published his first song and was attracting the attention of Broadway composers. While he is known for composing numerous songs, the work which really propelled to success was Rhapsody in Blue, written in the early 1920s. Following this, George began to collaborate with his brother Ira, a lyricist, to write musicals on Broadway. Their first was Lady Be Good (1924). In addition to his Broadway hits, Gershwin continued to write for the classical orchestra and for piano solo, and managed to achieve international acclaim in both ‘traditional’ circles and modern society.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

Antonio Gramsci had a difficult childhood. His father was unable to get a job after a stint in prison charged with maladministration. The family of nine struggled with great financial problems, and Antonio suffered from ill health which left him a hunchback. After winning a scholarship to study at Turin University, Antonio became very involved with the socialist movement in the city. When the Italian Communist Party was founded in 1921, Antonio was elected as a member of the central committee. After spending over a year in Moscow, Gramsci returned to his native country as leader of the Communist Party. He was jailed in 1926 for opposing Mussolini, and forbidden to write for three years. From 1929, Gramsci kept prison notebooks. When he died in prison at the age of forty-six, he had written thirty-three books. Tatiana, Antonio’s sister-in-law, managed to smuggle these books out of prison and arranged for their publication in Moscow.

Rayner Hoff (1894-1937)

Rayner Hoff’s father was a stone and wood carver, and as a child Hoff enjoyed helping his father on architectural commissions. In the years leading up to World War One, Rayner studied at Nottingham School of Art. In 1915, Hoff joined the army and fought in the trenches, an experience which inspired him greatly when he later designed several war memorials. After completing his studies in London and Rome, Hoff moved to Sydney where he was director of sculpture and drawing at the East Sydney Technical College. His best known works are his sculptures for the ANZAC war memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney (right).

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Ravel began learning the piano at the age of seven, and was composing five years later. His parents were always supportive of his musical interests, and sent him to study at the Paris Conservatoire. Ravel was a pupil there for fourteen years, under the guidance of Gabriel Fauré. Despite his remarkable talent, Ravel never worked well with the French musical establishment. After a scandal where he was robbed of the prestigious ‘prix de Rome’, Ravel left the Conservatoire. When he was awarded the ‘Légion d’Honneur’ by the French government, Ravel refused. He moved into the countryside and wrote from the seclusion of his home. In 1928, Ravel embarked on a hugely successful tour of Amercia, where he made good friends with Gershwin. He was also impressed by American jazz, which influenced his later compositions. Although Ravel considered himself a classicist in terms of musical structures, his works featured innovative harmonies, favouring modal colouring rather than the traditional major or minor tonalities. His works remain part of the standard concert repertoire of today.

Ikki Kita (1883-1937)

In his student days, Kita was attracted to the socialist cause and met with many influential figures in his native Japan. After the outbreak of the Chinese Revolution in 1911, Kita travelled to China to help oust the Qing dynasty from power. However, by the time he returned to Tokyo eight years later, Kita had grown greatly disillusioned with socialism and the revolution. A founding member of ‘Yuzonsha’, an ultranationalist organisation, Kita soon replaced his socialist philosophy with a pro-fascist one. While he promoted national unity, Kita also believed that the way forward was a military coup d’etat, followed by a totalitarian Imperial regime which would suspend the constitution and remove all corruption. Part of his ‘reorganisation’ plan involved limits on individual wealth, and land reforms for the farmers. Kita’s writings had a strong influence on the Japanese military, and demonstrate a unique blend of fascism, Marxism, agrarianism and militarism.

Ahmad Javad (1892-1937)

Ahmad Javad Akhundzade was born in 1892. In 1918 he became a member of the Musavat Party, and later became a member of the central committee. Javad was also the leader of the Musazat Literature Union (‘Yashil Galamlar). The Soviet regime was always suspicious of him, and had him arrested and freed in the early 1920s on ‘counter-revolutionary’ charges. Several years later, Javad was accused of encouraging nationalism and independence. He was arrested again, and executed in October 1937. Javad is best known for writing the words of the Azerbaijani national anthem, as well as several poems.

Louis Vierne (1870-1937)

Despite being born almost blind, the young Louis demonstrated a prodigious ability to pick out tunes on the piano from the age of two. He went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire, following which he held a position as principal organist at the cathedral of Notre Dame. He kept this position for the rest of his life. As his sight continued to diminish, Vierne resorted to Braille to do most of his work. He suffered many additional difficulties during his life, separating from his wife and losing his son in the First World War. Nevertheless, his students always described him as a kind, patient and encouraging man. He died of a heart attack during his 1,750th organ recital at Notre Dame. Much of his work was never written down, as Vierne was chiefly a musical improviser – one of the finest of his generation. However, his output was still quite substantial and includes repertoire covering many combinations of instruments.

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

The composer and pianist was born into a wealthy Polish family. After studying music privately with his father, Szymanowski attended first the Gustav Neuhaus’ Elizavetgrad School of Music, then the State Conservatory at Warsaw. In 1926 Szymanowski became director of the latter institution, but retired four years later. Opportunities for music making under the Russian occupation were limited, and Szymanowski found much inspiration on his extensive travels through Europe, Amercia, North Africa and the Middle East. Despite this, the composer always retained a deep love for Polish folk music – an attachment which clearly shows through in his compositions. In addition to his many musical works, Szymanowski also produced a collection of poetry and a novel.
Coming out of copyright -- some notable deaths from 1937 Coming out of copyright  -- some notable deaths from 1937 Reviewed by Jeremy on Monday, December 31, 2007 Rating: 5


  1. While the other works by JM Barrie may be coming out of copyright, the copyright of "Peter Pan", appropriately enough, lives for ever. Or to be more accurate, there is still some protection, provided by Section 301 of the CDP Act. I'm surprised you seem to be unaware of this, as it is one of the more memorable sections...


  2. Dear anonymous: I'm right, you're wrong. s.301 confers a post-expiry royalty in respect of the the public performance, commercial publication or communication to the public of the play Peter Pan. But none of those acts is a restricted act in respect of which copyright vests.

    I'm surprised you seem to be unaware of this ...

  3. Natalie Seeff and Caroline Hayward (trowers & hamlins) have emailed to remind readers of the Peter Pan- s.301 CDPA 1988 provision, which
    provides for a right to royalties in respect of public performance and commercial publication (or communication to the public) of the play "Peter Pan" to be received by Great Ormond Street Hospital notwithstanding the expiry of copyright. They add:

    "A rather heart warming provision we think :) maybe more sections could be added to CDPA along these lines!"

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. How many countries does the British Copyright Act apply in, again?

    Peter Pan has been Public Domain in most of the world since 1988.

  6. One note on George Gershwin:

    Unfortunately, although the US now has acceded to life-plus-70, most works first published under the 1909 Act (which includes all of Gershwin's output) and were properly renewed are on a flat-95-after-publication term. "Rhapsody in Blue," for example, remains in copyright in the US until 2359 on 31 December 2019, having been published (under the 1909 Act's arcane treatment of "published") in 1924.

    For all practical purposes, the date of a US author's death before 1978 is immaterial; what will matter is the date of publication. And even then, for works first published before 01 January 1978, the term established in the 1909 Act will hold...

  7. Terrific New Year's list.

    A point about US law:

    Life of the author + 70 does matter, with regard to unpublished works, where all unpublished works carry a term of life +70, regardless of nationality or time created. 17 U.S.C. Section 303(a) addresses unpublished works created before 1978. No work expired before December 31, 2002, even if the author had been deceased longer than 70 years. However, where if the work was published for the first time between 1978 and 2002 the work got an additional term of protection until December 3, 2047.

    This means that in the US the papers of Gramsci, Gershwin, etc. are in the public domain, even if their most known works are not.

    Also, it is important to note that "unpublished" is a really tricky category under the 1909 Act, and so many works one would not think of as unpublished (broadcasts, tv shows are two examples) are included in this category.

    (My primary research area is the unpublished public domain).

  8. Yes - speaking of New Year's, there will be a 95 year long hangover for lots of works in the USA for a long time to come.

    A real problem arises when copyright owners in life + 70 countries try to assert rights extraterritorially in life + 50 countries such as Canada. We had a unpleasant reminder of this earlier this year in Canada

    from Universal Edition AG of Vienna which threatened a CDN website with lots of PD in Canada scores, including, incredibly, Mahler who died in 1911. Which is a lot more than 70 years ago....

    I’ve proposed something potentially useful for WIPO to do along these lines, namely a Public Domain treaty - that might do something to resolve some of the ET and conflict of laws issues... and give WIPO something actually useful and achievable to do...rather than, for example, chasing after a broadcasters’ rights treaty that few want and nobody needs....

    Happy New Year to everyone.....


  9. Ms Gard is correct — I should have been much clearer and noted that I was considering only published works, although I think that was implicit in my comments.

    Of course, her comments have also pointed out two other potential problem areas under US copyright law:

    * Treatment of working papers (e.g., early drafts of later-published novels) is quite unclear, especially concerning derivative rights. For example, consider a set of "variations on a theme by Composer X" in which that theme appears in a skeletal form in the published work that remains in copyright, but in the full form in an unpublished version that has just fallen into the public domain because the unpublished version was not published during the composer's lifetime...

    * I was being unusually polite in terming the 1909 Act's treatment of "published" as "arcane." "Ludicrous," "internally inconsistent," and "[expletive deleted]" are probably more accurate. The 1909 Act doesn't even define the term!

    What WIPO could do that would be far more useful is explicitly institutionalize either the rule of the shorter term or the rule of the longer term. This is a problem even within the EU!


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