Songwriter Tom Lehrer became a star in the 1950s and ’60s writing and performing satirical songs that skewered just about everything… Lehrer, 92, announced Tuesday via his website that he’s effectively putting everything he ever wrote into the public domain. That means his lyrics and sheet music are available for anyone to use or perform, without having to pay royalties or deal with lawyers… [Most of Lehrer’s music “will be added gradually later with further disclaimers,” according to Lehrer’s web site.]
Lehrer’s giving up those royalties. But in exchange, he’s trying to give his work a new lease on life, said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia. “Lehrer, in this case, is basically saying, ‘Hey everybody, come revisit my material, come do with it what you want,'” he said… That could mean we’ll be hearing more of Tom Lehrer’s work, said Jennifer Jenkins, who runs the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School. “There is empirical research showing that when material enters the public domain, it actually gets used more,” she said.
Lehrer’s lyrics touched on geeky subjects including nuclear weapons, Wernher von Braun, and one song where he set the names of the chemical elements to a tune by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Wikipedia notes he “largely retired” in the 1970s to become a mathematics teacher at the University of California, Santa Cruz (also teaching the history of musical theatre). In the same decade he also wrote ten songs for The Electric Company, an educational TV show about reading broadcast on America’s public television, singing two of the songs himself — L-Y and Silent E.