Please keep in mind that I am NOT a lawyer, nor do I hold any degrees within the law profession. The information shared in this article are only MY personal opinions and interpretations, through years of personal research in to the subject of expired copyrights. My opinion should not be substituted for real legal advise. This article will give you a basic idea and understanding as to what is free media and PD & Creative Commons.
However, one should never assume.. Just because something was created in a certain era, does not mean it is automatically public domain. Each creative work must be treated on an individual basis. There are a few exceptions. For example, a movie such as “Miracle on 34th street” is public domain, but the soundtrack in the movie is not, it is still copyrighted, therefore you cannot use without prior permission (other than personal use). Second example, is to be aware that a DVD movie may be public domain, however, the DVD cover is usually copyrighted. Why? Because it’s a new creation by it’s other. Last example, are huge companies such as Disney, renew almost all of their vintage works, & cannot be used without permission. A good point I should make is; do not assume because something is available on the internet, that it is free for the taking, to used without permission. It is equally important to understand that, the internet itself, is NOT public domain.
With all the time & money invested, researching works believed to be public domain, it is equally important to posses the year, names of producers, co-producers, actors, vendors, etc.. Without this information, you may, or may not accurately receive the correct copyright information. The more information you have about the work in question, the better you’ll be in determining whether something is public domain or not. There are various reasons why a work goes into public domain, a few of them are as follows:
- Some authors forgot to renew.
- Some authors died before they got a chance to.
- Some authors could not afford the (in bulk) copyright costs.
- Some movie studios gone out of business.
- Failure to embed copyright notices on work when published etc..
- Many could not foresee the impact of the Internet.
- The copyright holder donates to public domain (some rights still reserved).
- The copyright holder donates to Creative commons (with some rights reserved).
- Some have even given works to the Library of Congress for historic preservation.
There are lots of confusion surrounding public domain & copyrights. Public Domain research can become extremely complicated, in addition to copyright’s in itself. Debates will forever continue on the subject of Public Domain. It can get just as intense, as religion or politics amongst those in the legal profession. At times, it’s as though there is a huge fight, between good & evil. However, it is not entirely impossible to learn the basics.
Public domain sharing, has grown to become an immense community of people on the web, made up of historians, hobbyist, and all other lovers of film nostalgia; who come together to share memories, or educate each other. Public domain is still growing more and more every day. Thanks to the internet, it is now possible to share these forgotten treasures. I think the entertainment industry realized this early on, and saw a huge market for vintage media. This ultimately resulted in the courts granting copyright extensions for 70+ years. Thus restoring copyrights to a huge chunk of works between 1964 – 1978, many of what would have been free legal sharing.
Public domain is extremely important, because they help to preserve history. Public domain also prevents the stagnation of starving film makers; that will not be able to make historic films, and documentaries, because they can’t afford the outlandish costs, of copyright & license fees. In my opinion, this can have a catastrophic affect, on our ability to learn about history; if the independent film makers can’t afford to produce it.
There’s also another dark-side to Public Domain… Too many corrupt companies, both within & outside the USA, are charging customers astronomical prices, for DVD movies that are in the public domain. Grossly abusing customer’s lack of awareness. I guess this is a lesson that, every collector should own a computer huh??
In my humble opinion, it is very important for other public domain webmasters to rise up, and be seen on the web; so that genuine collectors of vintage movies, music, etc., are not continuously cheated, and we do not continue to pay outlandish, unfair prices.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do understand the packaging costs, production costs, distribution costs, employees, etc… I have no problem paying for a hard to find, classic public domain movie on DVD. However, I have seen movies for 0.99 cents, in one store, and seen the same movie somewhere else, for $14.99; that’s 14 times MORE then it’s market value!!!! Old Time Radio are even more, as high as $22 dollars a CD for free audio. This is unacceptable to the consumer. However, also keep in mind that not all vintage movie between 1923 & 1963 are PD, but most are. I have posted a few resource links at the end of this document, that can help you make better estimates as to the likelihood of a work possibly being in the public domain. Please note: Anyone searching for public domain material to be used for profit, should always contact a “copyright lawyer” (someone who specializes in the area of copyright law) before you use the desired work. This goes especially in regards to film. Sometimes copyright lawyers can obtain documents from such places as The Library Of Congress, that would give clues as to a work’s possible public domain status. In my opinion, it is exponentially more difficult when it comes to art. We have many techniques and technologies that allow us to take new works and turn them into vintage/Victorian art. Try to obtain as much information about that art work as possible, even if the work was published on a public domain site. Also note that, if someone creates a new/transformative work, from an original public domain work, that new work is now copyrighted, and you MUST seek permission, and or purchase a license to use work.
Because public domain is free to use, it also allows webmaster to create content on their websites; allows artists to gain new inspirations; hobbyist/graphic professionals can create new desktop themes derived from public domain art; business owners to create fliers for advertisement their business; Small film makers can create documentaries, without the fear of spending royalty costs; writers and blogsters, can share written PD works; Political sites can share government documents, and full presidential speeches for discussion. The possibilities are endless.
Please make sure that you stop and check, all documentation relating to a particular works BEFORE YOU USE (except under conditions of fair use)!!! Sometimes even Public Domain & Creative Commons still have restrictions!!! When ever your not sure, always e-mail the author/creator, and ask permission; not only is this legally safer, but it is common sense!! If are a blogger, amazon has great books to further your knowledge of Public Domain such as this one.. Public Domain, The: How to Find and Use Copyright Free Writings, Music, Art & More
Best e-books.com talks about some of the pitfalls in dealing with Public Domain works. They offer priceless information on what to look for. “It is important to emphasize that copyright protection is not the only form of legal protection for creative works. Although a work may be in the public domain for copyright purposes, rights to the material may be protected under various legal theories such as trademark or unfair competition laws (which protect against confusingly similar usage by another); an individual’s right of privacy (the right to be left alone); or a person’s right of publicity (an individual’s exclusive right to benefit commercially from his or her name, voice, photograph or likeness)”. Read more of what they have to say on the subject on their website… Best e-books.com. E How also offers basic tips on their website on to get, and estimate when a work is in the public domain. Check them out here.
An exception to the rule are trademarks. Trademarks are in essence a company or an entity’s “brand”, this includes a logo, a company’s slogan, a word/phrase, a stylish image, a movie character, or fictitious drawing. A trademark is what unequivocally identifies a company, person or entity. A trademark is a different kind of copyright, and should be taken just as serious as any other kind of copyright ©. A trademark ® symbol means that the logo etc., has been approved and officially registered. A trademark ™ symbol means that copyright is awaiting approval. Trade must go through an approval process, this is to ensure that there is not a similar trademark in existence.
Having said the above paragraph, you should be aware of on of the few exceptions to the public domain rule. If a public domain movie contain a registered trademark ie., a recognizable brand name, you may need to get permission to use that portion of the movie with the copyrighted trademark. If an image (printed or digital) has a trademark with an ®, or ™ symbol next to a logo, you MUST get permission. It is safer in my opinion to assume that, any obvious logos with out any trademarked symbols are already trademarked. Do not confuse a copyrighted image with a trademarked image.
A perfect example of this is Mickey Mouse; although many of it’s works should have naturally fell in to the public domain, Mickey Mouse is a trademark. Nothing from Mickey Mouse can be reused without permission. A second example is King Kong. The 1923 version of King Kong has not fell in to the public domain, because King Kong itself is a trademark. Same is true for “the Wizard of Oz”. Be very careful and be aware of trademarks that may be contained in a film, magazine, photo, etc., before you use a public domain work.
Trademarks are extremely important to understand especially if you re-sell public domain works. When you are not sure……. Ask… Obtain as much information as possible about the image/work in question, then attempt to contact the owner. Depending on who owns the trademark, and depending on the nature of your use; most times it’s ok to use. However, be aware that some trademark owner’s may require you to pay a small copyright/license fee.
Creative commons, is a special license that lets authors, allow the public to use their copyrighted works without direct permission. Each individual author has his or her own set of guidelines, and conditions that YOU MUST follow, in order to use their works. Example, “for non-commercial use”, or “no derivatives”, and “must credit author/attribution” are the most popular. The website where you are downloading your file, has an attribution logo, that tells you exactly, what you can and cannot do. See bottom for an example. The key thing to remember is, that all creative commons works is STILL COPYRIGHTED. For most Creative Commons means “Some Rights Reserved!! Just because an author allows you to share the work, it doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want with the work. The author 100% protected by the fullest extent of the law. You must follow the artist guide lines. Whenever you are not sure of something….. ASK!! It will never hurt to shoot an e-mail out to the copyright owner. People who create for Creative Commons are usually very accessible. There is so much talent out on the internet that no one has ever seen before.
The Creative Commons has become a powerful and essential force, in terms of web content, freedom of expression, and education. Another good point I should mention is that, there are many works that may appear to be Public Domain, but are actually Creative Commons. It is extremely important to do your research! Employ a lawyer, and or employ the copyright office to do the research for you! There are also many websites that have legitimate free public domain content.
People who offer there hard work to the public are a God sent. Whenever you see an awesome work, or if you listen to a particular podcaster everyday; tell him or her thank you for all the work that you do. For more information on creative commons works, visit creative commons website.
Copyright © 2013 Revised
FREE ON-LINE BOOKS ON PUBLIC DOMAIN
This s a excellent book on Public Domain, and fair use. It gives you a basic idea of what is acceptable and what is not, what is true and what is not; in an easy to understand comic book form. I highly recommend this book, to anyone who is interested in learning more about Public Domain. Please click on HERE to download free book in PDF format. You can also visit their website..
This is another good book. It is a 30 page E-book, that gets into the philosophy, view points, and ethics of Public Domain. The last pages also gives you some more resources on Public Domain books. Download PDF book HERE.. I hope this section of my site, gave you a basic understanding of what is Public Domain, and fair use. Don’t for get to tell your friends about VintageNewscast.com
Additional Public Domain and Creative Common Resource Links