Rhapsody in Green

At the end of the Gershwin centennial, his trust benefits from new copyright laws. But are they protecting artists or merely bank statements?

Even so, Strunsky wouldn't mind having an even longer period of control, in the form of a retroactive change to Life Plus 70 for songs written before 1978. "Take a song like 'Fascinating Rhythm,' from 1924. If we were in accordance with the rest of the world, all of Ira's work would go out in 2053 rather than 2019. There's a much greater respect for intellectual property in Europe than in the U.S. Here you have a situation where Irving Berlin could outlive some of his own copyrights. This is the only country where that can happen."

Of course, Berlin lived for 101 years; few living songwriters are in danger of surviving to see their own copyright protection lapse, especially under the new rules. UCLA's Volokh believes that Life Plus 50 already provided ample protection and incentive, but adds that it's entirely plausible that further extensions await future heirs. " 'Life Plus 90' could be the rallying cry of the future," he jokes. Or, as Michael Strunsky laughingly puts it when asked about future fights to protect both the integrity and profitability of the Gershwin catalog, "Ask my son."

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