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 Characters from PD films

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argosail

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PostSubject: Characters from PD films   Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:36 am

So, I've become interested in characters and settings from Public Domain movies and would like to add some to the Free Universe site, but I'm a little uncertain about the legal status of some movies and I wonder why they are considered "public domain."

Pre-1923 movies: I know these are PD, so I can use characters/settings from these.

1923-1950: These movies need to be renewed, and weren't. I understand that, and it seems pretty cut and dry. However, I know that I need to be careful and make sure the movies aren't based on books or plays or other pre-existing works that are still under copyright.

1950-1964: I'm a little more nervous about these, because the renewal period would have been AFTER 1978. Did these works still need to be renewed 28 years later or was it automatic at this point?

1964-1978: As I understand it, the only way these could be public domain is if they were not registered and had no proper coyright citations on them. Is that correct?

1978 or later: Public domain movie sites often have movies from the early 80'S in them. Is it possible these are actually PD? Would it just be from lack of registration/citation?

Foreign Films: This is where my biggest confusion is. There are a lot of 60's and 70's films listed on PD movie sites that are from Italy, Japan and China. Are these only considered PD in the United States because they weren't registered here and didn't have proper copyright citations? Maybe they are considered PD because they weren't properly registered in their own country? How does that work?

For example, I find the characters in the "Street Fighter" movies to be very cool and colorful, and the films are widely distributed as PD films, but it amazes me that anyone would let these films just fall into public domain.

Korean Films: I see that there are a number of sci-fi anime features from the early 80'S that were made by Joseph Lai, including "Defenders of Space" and the notorious "Space Thunder Kids." Lai is apparently known for producing toons that pretty blatantly rip off the stories and character designs of more popular cartoons and movies. I have seen it suggested that if Lai had produced those films anywhere but South Korea, where copyright law is a bit different, he probably would have been sued for copyright infrigement. His films are now distributed by companies who sell DVD's of PD films at WalMart and the dollar store. The question is, why are these 1983-1988 productions considered PD (one that is frequently distributed is actually from 2002)? It is unlikely that the American DVD distributors are actually paying licensing fees to sell these god-awful movies for a dollar, so are they selling illegal pirate copies or is it possible these films are really PD? Maybe the DVD distributors think they can get away with selling the movie because if Lai ever tried to enforce his copyright, he would open himself up to litgation from the Japanese companies that he ripped off? Maybe they figure that these films are so terrible that nobody cares about them, least of all, the hack who produced them for a quick buck on the other side of the pond. I'm just curious what the story is, because some of the original characters designs (the ones that weren't rip offs) were kinda cool, even if the films were total crap. Is it likely that these character designs are legally up for grabs, or is this just a case of ignorance being bliss for the DVD companies?
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Jay042



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PostSubject: Re: Characters from PD films   Mon May 30, 2011 10:36 am

In regards to the Joseph Lai films, I'm thinking they are probably in copyright, though most likely orphaned. I'm thinking DigiView, the company that released them, was playing fast and loose with copyright in those instances. They probably got a hold on some cheap masters from whatever source they were using and put out those DVDs.

I understand DigiView is out of business, they ran afoul of Warner Bros. and got shut down.
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GoldenBard

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PostSubject: Re: Characters from PD films   Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:10 am

Hey, Argosail. We have a Roku, a video on demand device that we originally go for the Netflix "watch instantly" feature. However, they have other channels available, including Pub-D Hub, a channel that features public domain movies.

This list is by no mean exhaustive (although they seem to be slowly adding new movies all the time), but they do have a list of the movies they show on their Web site: http://www.pubdhub.info/

Check it out and see if there are characters there that you can use!
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Jay042



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PostSubject: Re: Characters from PD films   Mon Jul 04, 2011 10:38 am

Actually, this discussion is very relevant to my current story in my comic. I'm using Ro-Man the Robot Monster as the main villain. It's been mentioned in several places as a PD film, but I can't say I'm 100% certain about it.

Thankfully between my small potatoes webcomic and the lack of any interest from whoever might actually be in a position to defend the copyright I honestly doubt I have anything to worry about.
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GoldenBard

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PostSubject: Re: Characters from PD films   Mon Jul 04, 2011 11:03 am

Jay042 wrote:
Actually, this discussion is very relevant to my current story in my comic. I'm using Ro-Man the Robot Monster as the main villain.

Ooh, I may have to steal that idea from you some day. I LOVE that cheesy movie, and think Ro-Man has a lot of potential as a character, but I never even considered working him into one of my stories...
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kevinryanvt



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PostSubject: Re: Characters from PD films   Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:10 pm

Argosail -

Be careful of foreign PD at the moment. There are some terrific resources there, such as Lord of the Rings or Metropolis, but, during the 1990's, a treaty was written that may pull some PD foreign works back under copyright.

Originally, you had to follow US renewal requirements to protect foreign released works, or it went into PD in the US. Many creators, as you can well imagine, did not. The Uruguay Round Table Treaty basically said that different counties must respect each others' copyrights, and pulled many PD foreign works out of PD. The courts have literally been wrestling with this for a decade, and currently, it's in the hands of the Supreme Court, with the latest being that foreign works ARE protected if protected in their home country.

The case is Golan v Holder, if you want to check it out.

None of this explains why Popeye is now PD in Europe, but not in America. lol

K
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argosail

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PostSubject: Re: Characters from PD films   Mon Jul 04, 2011 3:19 pm

Yeah, I've been a little trepidatious about the foreign films, which accounts for most of the more recent films. I see that these films are still showing up in WalMart and such, but that's likely because the creators of movies like Cosmos, War of the Planets probably realize they are sitting on horrible films and they could never actually hope to profit from them. They're probably glad the films are being watched at all. Also, most of these films are from Italy, and I understand that Italy is pretty...liberal about how their laws are enforced. Still, I prefer to err on the right side of the law.
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