2405: Flash Gatsby

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Flash Gatsby
Protip: At midnight your excuse for not having read The Great Gatsby can switch from "I'm worried about violating copyright" to "I think my copy requires Flash."
Title text: Protip: At midnight your excuse for not having read The Great Gatsby can switch from "I'm worried about violating copyright" to "I think my copy requires Flash."


This comic unfolds over the last few seconds of 2020 and the first few seconds of 2021. Cueball is attempting to do something requiring the overlap of two eras that only abut: creating an "unauthorized" adaptation of The Great Gatsby, using the Adobe Flash plugin platform.

The Great Gatsby is a classic novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925. Copyright law in the United States of America, where The Great Gatsby was first published, was retroactively extended several times in the 1990s and early 2000s, causing the copyright on The Great Gatsby to extend until the end of 2020. In 2021, it finally entered the public domain so that it became legal to make a copy without violating copyright law.

Adobe Flash, formerly known as Shockwave Flash, is a web plugin that was commonly used by many websites in the late 1990s and 2000s. It allowed website creators to add animations, sound, and complex logic to build games, videos, and other interactive experiences. Presumably, the Flash version of the novel is some kind of interactive reader, animated cartoon, or perhaps even a game.

Over the years, Adobe Flash was repeatedly exploited by hackers, incurring heavy costs on Adobe as they tried to update Flash against these attacks after rushing features out before stabilizing them. Newer technologies are now able to provide comparable features with more compatibility, more community involvement, and less risk, so support for Flash is being phased out by most web browsers. Adobe officially ended support for Flash after December 31, 2020.

In line with Adobe's decision, Chrome is blocking Flash in January. This will make entire internet culture histories spanning many years of making and engaging Flash experiences unusable for most people. Therefore, Cueball's Flash version of The Great Gatsby will become legal at the very moment that everyone should stop using it.

In this comic, Cueball suggests that the withdrawal of Flash support occurs after the copyright expiration rather than simultaneously with it. This is most likely because the applicable copyright law in the United States states that the creative work becomes public domain at the end of the year 2020 and Flash gets disabled at the beginning of the year 2021. So it is conceivable (but not practical) that there is one second when the novel is public domain and Flash is still enabled.

By late 2020, Flash Player was already blocked by most browsers, but could still be whitelisted on individual sites. Using old versions of browsers, or workarounds to run blocked extensions, Cueball's Great Gatsby may still be readable after the official Flash End of Life date of January 1, 2021. Even with these workarounds, Flash Player itself will block Flash content from playing on January 12, 2021, making that the final death date for official modern versions of Flash.

After January 12, Flash content may still be accessible through older builds of Flash Player, and through various archival and emulation projects, such as the Internet Archive, Ruffle, BlueMaxima's Flashpoint, and SuperNova.

The title wording does multiple work, with a number of possible meanings to it. It's the 'Gatsby' book via the medium of the electronic Flash format. Because of the briefest of availability (at best, a single moment), it appears and disappears again 'in a flash'. Being 'flash' is a very apt description of the millionaire Gatsby character himself ('Flash the cash' is being ostentatious). And, if the endeavor is not actually as legitimate as hoped, the word has also referred to felonious behaviors and forged copies.

The title text references using excuses for not having read a book considered a classic. Before the end of 2020, a possible excuse for not trying to read it was it may not have been available in the format a person wanted it (such as via a flash program in this case) and it might have been illegal (copyright violation) to get it in that format. After 2020, the new excuse to not read it could be a technical one (flash doesn't work/nothing capable of running flash). Both excuses are quite flimsy; it's apparent the person really just doesn't care to read The Great Gatsby.


[Cueball is sitting at a desk using his laptop.]
Off-panel voice: 3... 2... 1... Happy New Year!
Cueball: Okay, it’s up!
Cueball: Annnnnd ... support was pulled, it’s down again.
[Caption below the panel:]
There's only a very short window of time in which I can post my unauthorized Flash® adaptation of The Great Gatsby.

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I think this link should be referenced (and something added about how the copyright for this particular work is specifically extended), but not sure how to : https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/595567/why-the-great-gatsby-isnt-public-domain#:~:text=Copyright%20laws%20in%20America%20are,domain%20until%20January%201%2C%202021.&text=In%201976%2C%20Congress%20passed%20the,revised%20copyright%20laws%20from%201909. 02:30, 31 December 2020 (UTC)

I have one day to figure out how to do this in real life. Anybody have some tips? HostnameNotCaroline (talk) 12:49, 31 December 2020 (UTC)

I do have tips for a plan, though I don't have a full-fledged plan. Presenting the book, sourcing the book, and fixing problems after publishing are all going to be separate steps. Keep in mind that it is only the text of the book that is copyright free, don't go taking something from the movie. I also don't know if later versions and revisions are covered or not- or if there were any. (What about forewords? They might be covered by copyright still.) I also recommend uploading it to a site that supports updating-in-place so that you can publish the new version without destroying all links to it.

Here's how I imagine it. You load the book and are faced with an introduction on what it is. Then the reader is either ploped into the start of the book with a table of contents accessible somewhere or into the table of contents directly. There needs to be some way of moving to a particular page or chapter without crowdsourced guesswork or a thousand clicks/page-swipes. You're going to want to format chapter starts (and titles if applicable). Give the chapters clear spacing and centered headers as a book would. Don't forget about how the text will be presented. It needs to be legible, people won't want to use it if it's not. If you can't vary the size, font, and color I recommend a 12pt-20pt serif font that's black on white. Honestly though, I think that the quality of the presentation itself will be what people judge your work by. That's kind of what separates publishers when multiple people publish the same work.

I hope at least some of that was applicable. 13:34, 31 December 2020 (UTC)

Won't it stay up for longer if you publish it in correct timezone, making it available for those still in 2020? How does copyright law interact with timezones? How does flash's killswitch? 14:16, 31 December 2020 (UTC)

I'm still able to use Flash in Google Chrome, and it's after noon in my timezone (EST). Maybe it will actually stop with the next update? Barmar (talk) 17:43, 1 January 2021 (UTC)

The copyright law in question states that a work becomes public domain at the end of the year, a certain number of years after the author (or last author in the case of a collaboration) died. In Canada, that time frame is 50 years. In the U.S., I believe it is 75 years, but copyright renewals were a thing in the States for a time. Because F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 (80 years ago), his work finally goes into public domain at the end of this year after the 75 year term and the renewal expire. Nutster (talk) 15:53, 31 December 2020 (UTC)

Great Gatsby seems to be the work everyone is waiting to plagiarize legally. It's been mentioned in several reports on NPR today. Barmar (talk) 17:43, 1 January 2021 (UTC)

"It was obviously delayed one day to come out on new year." Or another comic will come out today (Friday), and this was an extra comic and not a delayed one. I'm removing this sentence until we know. Danish (talk) 17:58, 1 January 2021 (UTC)

per https://xkcd.com/archive/, this is not true. The publish date is 2020-12-30.