Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Can I Set Amelia Earhart's Words to Music?

Amelia Earhart, 1937

Dear Rich: I'm inquiring about setting Amelia Earhart's words to music. She published three books between 1928 and 1937, and a poem (Courage, From an Airplane, To M_). She was declared dead in absentia January 5, 1939 (aged 41). How could we determine whether or not her work is public domain? The website,, states that CMG Worldwide acts as the exclusive agent for Amelia Earhart.
CMG Worldwide represents Amelia Earhart for branding opportunities -- that is, they license Earhart's image, name, or personna to sell a product or service (much like her husband,  G.P. Putnam, licensed her name and image for Lucky Strikes).  Although CMG states that it "specializes in clearing copyrights, trademarks, and rights of publicity," we couldn't find any evidence that the agency claims or clears copyright on Earhart's literary properties.
Copyright research. In any case, a bit of research may moot any need for permission. Literary works published between 1928 and 1937 are protected for 95 years provided that they were renewed 28 years from first publication. (Less than seven percent of books were renewed). Literary renewals can be searched at Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database. A search for Amelia Earhart turned up one renewal for "The Last Flight," first published in 1937 and renewed in 1964 (see below). So, that work is protected until 2032.

We also searched under Earhart's husband's name (Putnam co-authored many books) but found no other renewals for her. In other words, the poem and two of her books, "20 Hours, 40 Min: Our Flight in the Friendship," and "The Fun of It," are not showing up as renewed. Assuming the database is accurate, these two books (and the poem) would be in the public domain and free to use. However, even if this correct, we're not clear whether CMG Worldwide would pursue you should you choose to create a musical based on Earhart's life (or even a t-shirt with Earhart's image).