NICHOLAS GOLDBERG, Los Angeles Times; Column: How Trump tried to trademark and profit off the phrase ‘Rigged Election!’
"Lehrer released records, played the Cambridge coffee shop scene and San Francisco nightclubs and became world famous before mostly disappearing from public view and going back to being a math teacher, much of the time at UC Santa Cruz. About songwriting, he told the Washington Post: “My head just isn’t there anymore.”
But his songs remained popular and he presumably continued to make money from them.
Then, late in life, he decided he was done profiting from his work. A couple of years ago he announced that he intended to put all his music into the public domain. In late November, he posted another note on his website saying that “all copyrights to lyrics or music written or composed by me have been permanently and irrevocably relinquished.”
“In short,” he wrote, “I no longer retain any rights to any of my songs. So help yourselves and don’t send me any money.”
OK, I’ll admit I found this moving, an example of a well-known person putting the public good over the private good, at some financial cost to himself. It’s true that Lehrer is in his 90s and, as far as I can tell, has no children, although surely he’s got heirs of one sort or another. Admittedly, this is not as big a deal as if we heard that the songs of Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney were suddenly free for public use (which they aren’t). But Lehrer’s gesture is generous and selfless nevertheless, because the public domain is, in the end, the public domain.
People who want to use or perform or record or rearrange or tinker with his songs may now do so “without payment or fear of legal action,” Lehrer wrote."