Bill Gates snapped up at least four rare copies of The Great Gatsby, the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, and a Gatsby quote even adorns the ceiling of the library in his $127-million house. Gates sees Gatsby as a major inspiration and shared his passion as a Secret Santa, part of the Reditt site’s gift exchange. A fellow Gatsby lover in Michigan received a scanned version of the manuscript.

Props to Gates. But should such generosity be so random in regard to books—when libraries face new budget challenges, especially in paying for ebooks and audiobooks, whose use has skyrocketed during the virus crisis? U.S. public libraries can spend only about $1.7 billion a year on content of all kinds, digital and nondigital.

It is, yes, time for a multidonor national library endowment and two national digital library systems—and something else in the interest of a more literate America: shortened copyright terms.

Gatsby, published in 1925, was illegal to reproduce without authorization in the United States until yesterday, January 1, 2021, when the copyright finally expired in the United States, along with those of other titles, including some that Duke University highlighted as part of the Public Domain Day initiative. I’d love to see the Biden Administration push for truly school-friendly copyright reform shortening outrageously long terms. Dr. Jill Biden, the forthcoming First Lady, has taught English for years at Northern Virginia College—full of cash-strapped students likely to benefit from a wider selection of free books.

Links to Gatsby, An American Tragedy, and 11 other freed works

However much we need copyright reform and well-stocked national digital libraries, it is certainly appropriate to take advantage of what’s legally available now. Below are links for students and other Americans to download some of the books Duke listed as newly freed.

The Great Gatsby (Feedbooks edition here and Standard Ebooks version here in various popular formats, including Kindle, ePub and PDF). I did the logical thing and also checked Google Books, only to see a notice saying no free ebook was available. Come on, Google. With all your lofty rhetoric about your digitization efforts, you ideally would have put Gatsby online for free yesterday to show the importance of the public domain. Ideally that’ll soon happen. Readers might also watch other sites for newly liberated public domain classics and other free books.

An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser (Feedbooks and Internet Archive).

in our time, by Ernest Hemingway (One More Library).

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (Feedbooks and One More Library).

Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis (Internet Archive). This novel is especially timely, given Dr. Martin Arrowsmith’s fight against epidemics and sleazy drug companies.

The Trial, by Franz Kafka. The German text is now legally available for free, but even better from a U.S. perspective, Project Gutenberg appears to have arranged to distribute a free English-language translation. Also see Feedbooks.

The New Negro—collected works from writers including W.E.B. du Bois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Eric Walrond), edited by Alain Locke (Internet Archive).

The Secret of Chimneys, by Agatha Christie (—text not downloadable).

Those Barren Leaves, by Aldous Huxley (Internet Archive).

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham (Internet Archive).

On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs, by Dorothy Scarborough (Internet Archive).

The Writing of Fiction, by Edith Wharton (Internet Archive). Of special interest to students and aspiring authors? The Archives includes a PDF of a scanned copy from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library of Phillips Academy.

A Daughter of the Samurai, by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto (Internet Archive).

For more newly freed titles in various media highlighted by Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, check out her article. And for a much more inclusive list, go here.

Note: I focused on Web sites where the books would be available in high-quality editions or at least would be present, period (tip: download PDF files if others contain too many typos). I certainly have not produced a comprehensive list—far from it. Feedbooks shows up so often because its formatting tends to stand out. Standard Ebooks, a relatively recent site without nearly as many titles, is also working hard in this area.

Related: Copyright Law of the United States, in Wikipedia.

The Gatsby quote on the ceiling of the Gates library: “He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

Additional detail: I’m strongly in favor of fair compensation for my fellow authors whose books are still under copyright.