Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE YEAR 2019, according to Alexandra Alter in The New York Times, December 29, 2018, will be one of “New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out.” She writes, “This sudden deluge of available works traces back to legislation Congress passed in 1998, which extended copyright protections by 20 years. The law reset the copyright term for works published from 1923 to 1977—lengthening it from 75 years to 95 years after publication—essentially freezing their protected status.”

The implications, Alter notes, are far-ranging: “Once books become part of the public domain, anyone can sell a digital, audio or print edition on Amazon. Fans can publish and sell their own sequels and spinoffs, or release irreverent monster mashups like the 2009 best-seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!. This zany pastiche took 85 percent of classic Jane Austen and fused it with zombie rationales by Seth Grahame-Smith.

All in good Austen scholarship, and fun.

A Public Domain Onslaught. New editions of old classics are part of the anticipated public domain onslaught. For instance, Robert Frost’s 1923 book of poems New Hampshire will appear in a Vintage Classic edition featuring the original woodcut art and several of his best-known poems, including “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

New Hampshire (Vintage Classics), by Robert Frost, Vintage, 2019.

Tradeoffs. Alter cites the tradeoffs of this increased body of public domain literature: Publishers and literary agents stand to lose creative control and money. On the other hand, readers will have more editions from which to choose. Writers and other artists can create new works based on classic stories without having to arrange estate permission or risk getting hit with an intellectual property lawsuit.

Image from The New York Times, December 29, 2018.

For example, Alter suggests a retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but from Daisy Buchanan’s point of view.

A New Parlor Game. This got me thinking of a new parlor game [ed: Do people still call them “parlors”?]. In Public Domain Pastiches, we invent spinoffs of classics with new twists. Here are several examples:

Moby-Dick: or, The Real Whale is told from the whale’s point of view. “Call me Cetus,” the novel begins.

That Colored Man’s Cabin is a story related by Simon Legree. This one would have a large-print, small-word edition for white supremacists.

A Study in Orange parallels a familiar Sherlock Holmes tale, but from Inspector Lestrade’s perspective: “I don’t get no respect, eh what?,” he ejaculates.

Holmes smiles and claps Lestrade condescendingly on the shoulder. Illustration by Sidney Paget from “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.” Image from The Victorian Web.

Murder on the Occidental Express pays homage to Agatha Christie’s mystery, but from the point of view of Samuel Rachett aka kidnapper Casetti. This one would be mostly a prequel; otherwise, it would have only one chapter.

Stopping by Woods Redux is free verse composed by Little Horse. He says, “Geez, what a queer place to stop. Maybe if I give my harness bell a shake, this fellow will come to his senses.”

The Profit is written by a real kvetcher. Unlike Kahlil Gilbran’s gentle and uplifting original, this one is a discouraging read.

Image from The New York Times, December 29, 2018.

You’re encouraged to share your Public Domain Pastiches. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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