Knowledge Base Article: KB2388
Topic: FAQ - Content-Related Questions, Genre, Style, Public Domain, and Soundalike Issues

Title: Is George Gershwin's song “Summertime" in the public domain in the U.S.?

Last Reviewed: Apr 19, 2017

Q.  Is George Gershwin's song "Summertime" in the public domain in the U.S.?

A.  No "Summertime" is not in the public domain in the U.S.  

The music for "Summertime" was composed in 1935 by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics were written by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel on which the opera was based, and co-written by Ira Gershwin. 

The copyright for Porgy and Bess was registered under the Copyright Act of 1909 for an initial term of 28 years. The copyright was renewed for an additional 28 years, expiring in 1991. It was extended for another 19 years by the Copyright Act of 1976, and slated to expire in 2010. However, Porgy and Bess was still under copyright protection in 1998 when the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was passed, and was granted an additional 20 years, for a total of 95 years.

Barring a change in the U.S. Copyright Law, “Summertime” will not enter the public domain in the U.S. until 2030. 

These conditions and expiration dates apply in the U.S. only and do not reflect those of other countries. 

Until “Summertime” enters the public domain, it can be licensed via Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., a division of Warner Music. However, doing so is extremely costly, and the Gershwin estate is very protective of Gershwin's music, as is the Hayward estate with respect to Porgy and Bess. Both estates have been involved in litigation regarding licenses that they deem to devalue the music.  

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general informational only. Its contents should not be construed as legal advice. For specific questions and legal guidance, you should always consult an attorney. 


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