2020 marked the 70th anniversary of Weill’s death. While some of Weill’s works entered the public domain in certain territories on 1 January 2021, the number of works that remain fully protected by copyright worldwide greatly exceeds those which have lost protection. A careful analysis of the network of global copyright laws confirms that the changes in protection in 2021 are relatively modest, and should dispel the common misconception that the entirety of Weill’s creative output has now entered the public domain. As a reminder, any work fully or partially protected by copyright requires an appropriate license to perform, arrange, or otherwise exploit. Foundation staff have conducted exhaustive research and are now available to field relevant questions or advise on particular licensing scenarios.
There is no singular copyright scenario that applies globally to the entirety of Weill’s catalog, which, due to when the works were created, in many territories is covered by previously enacted copyright statutes rather than by the most recent standards. Both historical and geographical perspective are needed. One must consider Weill’s oeuvre within four distinct geographical categories: the European Union, “Life + 70” territories, “Life +50” Territories, and the United States with full understanding of how laws have changed over time.
The European Union
The term of copyright of musical, literary and dramatic works in the European Union extends 70 years after the death of the longest living co-creator. Of Weill’s stage works therefore, only those he wrote in collaboration with Georg Kaiser (Der Zar lässt sich photographieren, Der Protagonist, Der Silbersee) entered the public domain in 2021 (see note below). All other stage works remain protected in the EU, some well into the future. These include Die sieben Todsünden, which will remain protected through 2026 (Brecht’s date of death is 1956), Die Dreigroschenoper, both Mahagonny Songspiel and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Der Jasager, and Happy End, through 2043 (Hauptmann, 1973), Lady in the Dark and The Firebrand of Florence, through 2053 (Gershwin, 1983), and Down in the Valley, through 2076 (Sundgaard, 2006).
Instrumental works solely composed by Weill also entered the public domain in 2021. These include his two symphonies, Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra, and two string quartets. Kleine Dreigroschenmusik notably has not entered the public domain in 2021. Because it is a derivative work from the jointly authored songs of Die Dreigroschenoper, it enjoys full protection until 70 years after Brecht’s death, through 2026. (Protection persists through 31 December of the year of the 70th anniversary of last collaborator’s death).
There are some significant exceptions to terms of protection in certain EU member states. France, for instance, provides a “wartime extension” of more than eight years of additional protection for many of Weill’s works. Spain reduced its protection period from 80 to 70 years in 1987, but continues to offer the 80-year term to authors who died prior to 7 December 1987, as Weill and nearly all his collaborators did.
There are currently, after Brexit, 27 members of the European Union, with five other candidates for membership: Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. The United Kingdom’s copyright laws have not been modified post-Brexit, so can be still be considered to be in this category.
Note: While the intellectual property created by Weill and Iwan Goll (date of death 1950) for Royal Palace entered the public domain in the EU and other “Life +70” territories in 2021, the only existing full score of the piece, including the orchestrations, was constructed in the 1960s by Gunther Schuller (2015) and Noam Sheriff (2018). This element of the work remains protected through 2068 in the “Life + 50” territories and through 2088 elsewhere. Weill’s full score and orchestral parts were apparently lost following a production in 1929.
“Life + 70” Territories Outside the EU
Approximately 40 countries outside of the EU also provide copyright protection for 70 years after the author’s death, including Argentina, Australia, Russia, and Switzerland. These are commonly referred to as “Life + 70” territories. Some of these countries require that the contributions to the joint work be “inseparable,” that is, text or music cannot be definitively ascribed to a single collaborator (unlike the EU, where “indivisibility” is granted by statute). Differences among territories outside the EU demand a case-by-case approach to determine whether a work has entered the public domain in whole or in part. Weill and his co-authors’ stage works were primarily the products of synergistic collaboration, whereupon each author’s contributions shaped both the musical and textual contents of a unitary work. As Weill wrote to Lenya in 1944, “I am sure that Verdi or Offenbach or Mozart contributed as much to their libretti as I do without getting credit for it. This is part of the theatre composer’s job to create for himself the vehicle which he needs for his music.” As such, the large majority of stage works are regarded as inseparable, and the list of works that entered the public domain in 2021 in “Life +70” territories nearly matches that of the EU. The Foundation can provide a detailed analysis of “inseparability” for each of Weill’s works in a given country.
“Life + 50” Territories
“Life + 50” countries, which offer copyright protection to works for 50 years after an author’s death, include South Africa and New Zealand. As with “Life + 70” territories, there are countries in this category that require evidence of “inseparable” joint authorship in order to grant full protection of a work based on the lifetime of the longest living co-author. Weill’s works that entered the public domain in the “Life + 70” countries in 2021 had already done so in 2001 in the “Life + 50” territories. There are no additional works of Weill’s that will go PD in the “Life + 50” territories in 2021. Marie Galante will be the next, in 2023. Some of Weill’s best known works, including Dreigroschenoper and Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, remain protected on the basis of Elisabeth Hauptmann’s role as a co-creator (d. 1973).
The United States
Because American copyright law, as it relates generally to Weill’s catalog, is based on publication or copyright registration dates rather than an author’s date of death, the year 2020 carries far less significance in the US than it does in other parts of the world. In fact, all stage and concert works of Weill’s are presently either fully or partially protected by copyright in the U.S. Works created before 1978 receive a term of copyright protection of 95 years from the year of either the work’s first publication or pre-publication copyright registration, whichever occurs first. Like the member states of the EU, the U.S. recognizes a musical work written by more than one person to be jointly authored, so long as each individual’s contributions can be demonstrated to have been intended for the unitary whole. Works created before 1978 and first published between 1978 and 2002 are granted a term of 70 years either after 1978 or after the death of the longest living collaborator, whichever is longer. Works first published after 2002 (regardless of their date of creation) are protected for 70 years after the death of the longest living collaborator. A work created before 1978 and made available as rental material between 1978 and 2002 (but not published or registered for copyright prior to 1978) is considered “published” as of 1978, according to US law. Therefore, an unpublished, unregistered full score available as rental material between 1978 and 2002 receives protection for its orchestrations and other unpublished intellectual property within until at least 2048.
In the US, one can consider the copyright term of a stage or concert work created before 1978 as a composite of the terms of that work’s individual elements (such as a libretto, music/individual songs, orchestrations, etc.). Because elements of a single work may have differing publication/registration dates, so will their terms of copyright. For example, piano-vocal arrangements of eight songs from Love Life were filed for copyright in 1948, followed by registrations of two other numbers, “Mother’s Getting Nervous” in 1952 and “Progress” in 1955. Those songs are protected respectively until 2043, 2047, and 2050. However, the show’s script, orchestrations, and all other unpublished musical numbers made available as rental material after 1978 will enjoy protection for 70 years after co-author Alan Jay Lerner’s death in 1986 (that is, through 2056).
Differing statutes in the US and the rest of the world obviously result in substantially different copyright terms. Weill’s symphonies illustrate this point: as Weill was the sole creator of these works, they entered the public domain in the EU and other “Life + 70” territories in 2021 (critical editions of these works are nevertheless protected in several countries, including Germany and Italy.) However, because they were first published in 1966 (Fantaisie symphonique/Symphony No. 2) and 1968 (Symphonie in einem Satz/Symphony No. 1), they will remain protected in the U.S. until 2061 and 2063, respectively.
Derivative Works: Arrangements, Adaptations, and Translations
Just as the underlying intellectual property of Weill’s works has established terms of copyright protection, so too do the arrangements, adaptations, or translations of those works, often referred to as “derivative works.” For example, the elements of Street Scene attributable to Weill, Langston Hughes, or Elmer Rice will enter the public domain in Germany in 2037; however, Lys Symonette’s German translation of the work will remain protected for 70 years after her date of death, through 2075. In the U.S., material created after 1978 under a work-for-hire agreement receives a copyright term of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first. A number of arrangements, adaptations, and translations of Weill’s works were created under such conditions. The orchestral version of Four Walt Whitman Songs illustrates how multiple copyright terms can be relevant to a singular manifestation of a work: Weill composed the music of these settings of four Whitman poems, but only orchestrated “Beat! Beat! Drums!,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and a portion of “Dirge for Two Veterans.” The orchestration of “Come Up from the Fields, Father” was made by Carlos Surinach, who lived until 1997, while John Baxindine completed Weill’s orchestrations of “Dirge for Two Veterans” under the terms of a work-for-hire agreement. Some elements of the orchestral version of the Whitman Songs will therefore be protected in the EU, U.S. and other “Life + 70” territories through 2067 (through 2047 in “Life + 50” territories), while the copyright term for other elements will extend at least until 2091 outside the US, as Baxindine is still alive, and beyond 2100 in the US. Similarly, the orchestrations created for the “low voice” version of Die sieben Todsünden by Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg (date of death: 1985) remain protected until 2055 in the EU, US and other “70+” territories, while the term of copyright outside the U.S. for the newly available 15-player version of the piece shall be based on the future death dates of those who created that arrangement, HK Gruber and Christian Muthspiel, and at least through 2116 within the US.
Virtually all authorized derivative works remain fully protected worldwide.
Exploitation Across Multiple Territories
If a performance or manifestation of a work is made available across multiple territories with different copyright terms, that form of exploitation is subject to the longest term of protection offered within the territories in which it is shared. For example, an online stream available worldwide of a performance of Weill’s second symphony originating in Australia would not be considered a presentation of a work in the public domain. Although the work went PD in Australia in 2001, it remains protected in the US until 2061, therefore any form of worldwide exploitation would require an appropriate synchronization license if it can be streamed within any territory where it is still protected.
The publication of a critical edition of an existing work extends copyright of that particular manifestation in some countries–Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain–even after the intellectual property embodied in the work falls into the public domain. In the U.S., new material in the critical edition, not previously published, is generally protected for 70 years after the death of the person or persons who created the material, or, in the case of material attributable to the Kurt Weill Edition, its volume editors, for 95 years following publication. The Kurt Weill Edition has to date published ten volumes of edited scores:
- Chamber Music (String Quartet in B Minor, Cello Sonata, String Quartet No. 1, Frauentanz)
- Die Dreigroschenoper
- The Firebrand of Florence
- Happy End
- Johnny Johnson
- Lady in the Dark
- Mahagonny Songspiel
- Music with Solo Violin (Violin Concerto, Der neue Orpheus)
- Der Protagonist
In January 2021, critical editions of Der Silbersee and Weill’s symphonic works are nearing completion and registry. These authoritative editions have also generated improved performance materials, which have replaced obsolete scores for performance. Even after a work enters the public domain, licensing agents will continue to rent the most accurate and up-to-date performance materials available. Publishers’ ownership of physical material is not affected by expiration of copyright protection.
Weill’s Works in the Public Domain as of 1 January 2021, by Territory
Weill’s Collaborators and Their Death Dates
Kurt Weill Foundation for Music
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