UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: This is PLANET MONEY from NPR.
JACOB GOLDSTEIN, HOST:
In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald published "The Great Gatsby."
ROBERT SMITH, HOST:
And like pretty much every author, he copyrighted the book when it came out.
GOLDSTEIN: Which, you know - fair enough. The way copyright worked at the time, Fitzgerald and his heirs could collect royalties from the book for 56 years, all the way until 1981. And during that time, if anybody wanted to make a movie or a play or anything at all based on "Gatsby," they would have to get permission and probably pay a licensing fee to the Fitzgerald family.
SMITH: And then, according to the law, after the 56 years, the book would go into something called the public domain. Fitzgerald's kids or grandkids wouldn't get royalties anymore. And more importantly, anyone who wanted to could print up and give away copies of the book or rewrite it from Tom's horse's point of view or create Gatsby on Ice, anything at all.
GOLDSTEIN: And, you know, copyright is this balancing act. On the one hand, you want to encourage and reward people who write books, who create things. But you also want to let those things enter the public domain at some point so we can all share them and tweak them and build on them and make more creative stuff.
SMITH: The art is figuring out how long to keep something in copyright. There was nothing special about 56 years. That's just a number that Congress picked. And then they decided to change it. In 1976, just five years before "The Great Gatsby" entered the public domain, five years before Gatsby on Ice, Congress changed copyright law. They said, among other things, 56 years is not quite long enough. Under the new, stronger rules, "Gatsby" wouldn't go into the public domain until 2001.
GOLDSTEIN: And then, just a few years before that, Congress jumped in again and, yes, made copyrights of old works last even longer. Under the new, new rules, "Gatsby" would not go into the public domain until almost 100 years after it was written, until 2021, which still sounds like some made-up year from the future to me.
SMITH: And, you know, Congress could've kept pushing this state, making the copyright longer and longer until the year 3000 or something like that. But there's been some pushback on the ever lengthening copyright period - not enough pushback to start making the copyright shorter, but enough to stop making them longer.
GOLDSTEIN: And so on January 1 of this year, finally, "The Great Gatsby" went into the public domain, into our domain. It belongs to us now. It belongs to everybody.
SMITH: And what we now own, I have to say, is a complicated book. It has the romance and beauty of America. It also has the racism and misogyny and anti-Semitism of America. And maybe the most American thing about the book, it's all about money. This is a book about why people want money and what they do when they get it and what money does to them. In other words, "Gatsby" is the perfect story for PLANET MONEY.
GOLDSTEIN: And now that "Gatsby" is in the public domain, if we wanted to, we could, you know, talk about it for a minute at the beginning of the show...
GOLDSTEIN: ...Say hello and welcome to PLANET MONEY, stick an ad break in. And then we could read the whole thing. We could read the entire book...
SMITH: The entire book.
GOLDSTEIN: ...And post it on our podcast feed.
(SOUNDBITE OF HENRY BUSSE'S "HOT LIPS")
GOLDSTEIN: Hello. And welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Jacob Goldstein.
SMITH: And I'm Robert Smith. Today on the show, Gatsby for the people.
GOLDSTEIN: "The Great Gatsby" read in its entirety by the staff of PLANET MONEY.
SMITH: That's exciting.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLANET MONEY STAFF READING "THE GREAT GATSBY")
: [NOTE: Read the full text of "The Great Gatsby" freely available here.]
SMITH: You've been listening to "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, read by the team behind the PLANET MONEY podcast from NPR. This audiobook was produced by Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi, James Sneed, Nick Fountain and Irena Hwang. The show was edited by Bryant Urstadt. Our senior producer is Alex Goldmark.
PLANET MONEY tells entertaining stories every week that explain how the economy works for people who don't normally care about economics. Usually the show is a lot, lot shorter. If you haven't subscribed, give us a try.
Just a note, there were a few outdated racial terms and ethnic slurs in the text. Some of the hosts weren't comfortable saying those words, so we changed them - public domain. If you'd like to see the original language, you can find it on pages 34, 41, 69, 139 and 140 in the classic Scribner's paperback edition we all had to read in high school. I'm Robert Smith. This is NPR. Thanks for listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF ETHELBERT NEVIN'S "NARCISSUS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.