Public Domain Follies and Misunderstandings?

3 replies
Hi Warriors,

What are the rules when it comes to public domain material that has been "digitally remastered" such as movies/old radio with audio cleaned up, picture color adjusted etc.? Are these considered "new works" and copyright-able? Or are they still considered public domain and can be used in any way possible?

It's essentially the same public domain piece of work. Can anyone clarify this?
#domain #follies #misunderstandings #public
  • Profile picture of the author davidtong
    these might help

    Public Domain Frequently Asked Questions | Teaching Copyright
    Stanford Copyright & Fair Use - Public Domain Trouble Spots

    More generic:
    U.S. Copyright Office - Definitions (FAQ)

    Where is the public domain?
    The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the “public domain” if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.
    For text, all I know is you can copyright your MODIFIED/Additional content, not the original work.
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  • Profile picture of the author DebraConrad
    As you know, once a work is in the public domain, the work is always in the public domain. However, new derivative versions can be made and copyrighted through various means but the underlying work remains in the public domain.

    If you simply take a public domain film and transfer it to DVD without making changes of any kind, the resulting work is still in the public domain. Mechanical reproduction of any public domain work does not result in new copyright protection.

    However, if you take the same public domain film and make changes to it, then you have created a derivative work and this new derivative work could be protected by copyright.

    According to U.S. copyright law, to qualify for copyright protection as a derivative work, the requirements of minimal creativity must be met.

    For instance, minimal creativity is being applied if you...

    1) colorize a b&w film
    2) improve the audio quality (remixing and balancing the sounds)
    3) enhance the color, contrast, sharpness, etc
    4) rearrange scenes, add elements, or make any other changes to the original film
    5) dub the film from English to any other language
    6) reducing the size of the film to fit a television screen (pan and scan)

    Any of the above would result in a new derivative work which qualifies for copyright protection.

    So bottom line, if a public domain film has truly been "digitally remastered", then it probably qualifies for copyright protection as a derivative work because you would think that "digitally remastering" a film would include most if not all of the six actions above.

    On the flip side, I've seen firsthand many producers of public domain films claim that their editions have been "digitally remastered" when in reality, they haven't changed a thing. Apparently some publishers believe that simply transferring a film from 35mm film to DVD constitutes "digital remastering".

    But it's not always easy to tell.

    My advice is stay away from any public domain film claiming to be digitally remastered and always strive to go back to the source. Ultimately, only a court of law could determine whether a specific digitally remastered public domain film would qualify for copyright protection as a derivative work...and that's probably not a journey worth taking to find out.

    Did you know that you can use Public Domain content for articles, blog posts, products, free reports and more? Debra's Public Domain Treasure Hunter blog can show you how....

    Ordinary Baby Boomer making money from home - Debra Conrad blog.
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  • Profile picture of the author roblawrence
    Wow, thank you everyone for your help. I have about 200 to 300 public domain films I've compiled, mostly horror and sci fi that I've collected from original film reels. Just wondering what to do with them or how best to use them. I may end up uploading them to a website and go with an adsense business model or private membership site but that's sort of a long-term project. Or possibly just offering the lot in a Warrior Special Offer as I don't have a lot of time and am engaged with other commitments. Again, thank you for the clarification.
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