Public domain films

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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aldiboronti

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Public domain films

PostMon May 15, 2017 2:41 am

I've just been reading a fascinating book over at http://www.jstor.org (you can register free to read up to 3 books every fortnight and there is a wealth of movie literature there.) The book is Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain by David Pierce and explains in great detail just how movies like Topper Returns, Night of the Living Dead and Charade managed to fall out of copyright.

In many cases it was due to movies being rejiggered and reissued. Apparently for a movie to be copyrighted or have its copyright renewed three elements must be present in the film:

1. The © symbol or the word copyright
2. The year of first publication
3. The name of the copyright owner

If any of these were absent bang would go your copyright or the copyright of those you sold the work to. Many movies when reissued by a new owner or the original one inadvertently left off the copyright notice or one of the other elements and by the timethey realized it they had missed the deadline to renew. (Incidentally the author explains why so many films used Roman numerals for the date; they had no wish to let the audience know just how old the movie was that they were seeing!) All this applies only to pre-1978 movies as in that year the law was changed making it far easier for studios to hang on to their copyrights despite renewal errors. Oddly enough all foreign movies had their copyrights restored but that didn't apply to US films which had lost copyright protection.

In the case of Charade post-production work was done in England and a British laboratory was responsible for the copyright notice which read: MCMLXIII BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES COMPANY INC AND STANLEY DONEN FILMS INC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No one noticed at the time that the essential © or word copyright was missing. Although the author of the story had his original copyright renewed the film itself is now widely seen as being public domain.

Much more great stuff in the book and I do hope some here read it as I'd value your input.
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Spiny Norman

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Re: Public domain films

PostMon May 15, 2017 3:42 am

Weird! Because that logic does not apply to a book or music at all!
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Marr&Colton

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Re: Public domain films

PostThu May 18, 2017 6:21 am

As a longtime student of Public Domain films---(I programmed classic movies for various public venues, so had to be
VERY careful in my "due diligence" when running supposedly PD movies)--I find stories about how movies fall into the public domain interesting, BUT I DON'T CONSIDER THAT AS LEGAL ADVICE.

In the case of CHARADE, this film has more and more been deleted from Public Domain lists and independent video distributors lists, very much the same situation as HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1939).

NBC Universal has recently released a Blu-Ray CHARADE edition and still claims copyright. If a major corporation claims copyright, I STAY AWAY from using it as PD....

BTW--I find it amusing that so many eBay "gray-market" DVD sellers make long disclaimers on their listings that
their movie titles are PD, when those titles NEVER show up on reliable PD lists.
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Dave Pitts

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Re: Public domain films

PostSat May 20, 2017 8:27 am

Chaplin's Gold Rush -- didn't it become public domain because he reissued it in '42 with (awful) spoken narration, copyrighted that one, but then failed to renew copyright on the original version? I think the copyright on the '25 original cut ran out in 1953, by which point Chaplin had already moved to Switzerland -- and the problem was overlooked until it was too late.
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Marr&Colton

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Re: Public domain films

PostThu May 25, 2017 7:34 am

THE GOLD RUSH is another title that has disappeared from legit PD lists. The company that holds all the video rights to Chaplin's other features probably claims proprietary rights. I checked on two reliable PD sites (Buyoutfootage and ReelMediaInternational) and neither has ANY Chaplin features.
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Jim Reid

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Re: Public domain films

PostThu May 25, 2017 9:45 am

The copyright on The Gold Rush was reinstated as part of the Sonny Bono legislation. Any foreign film who's copyright had expired was reinstated. Gold Rush was copyrighted under the name of Chaplin himself, who was not an American citizen so it fell into this category. I think all the Chaplin films pre-1923 are PD, as long as you don't use his music.

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