An End to the Public Domain Drought

Mark this date on your calender because it’s going to be important. January 1, 2019.

The reason why this date is so important is because nothing has entered into the public domain for the past 20 years due to the passage of the Copyright Extension Act, introduced by the late Sonny Bono who died prior to the bills passage.

For those who don’t know who Sonny Bono is, he was married to the singing Diva Cher during the late 60’s and early 70’s and was responsible for her entry into the music scene with one notable song, “I Got You Babe” still popular to this day. He introduced the bill while representing California. He died during a skiing accident after hitting a tree and the bill was passed shortly after his death.

The reason we are pointing this date out is that on 1/1/19 anything published in 1923 will fall into the public domain. as this article from Atlantic points out.Works falling into the public domain isn’t really that big of a deal, it used to be that every major book store would have an “exclusive printing for us” of popular books which means that they hired a printing organization to print it and put name of said book store on the first page. Books falling into the public domain means that any movie or TV studio can now make their own version of it without needing to pay royalties to the author which is why so many variants of Alexander Dumas’s “Three Musketeers” is in movie and TV format and it also means that every movie produced prior to 1924 can now be copied and distributed without fear of being in violation of copyright laws.

There are several popular movies that are already in the Public Domain due to strict requirements that publishers were required to go through years ago. One of my favorite Cary Grant movies, Charade, entered the public domain because it failed to include the copyright logo ( © ) in the film. The popular John Wayne movie McLintock! entered the public domain because the studio failed to renew the copyright. Some have even alleged that the reason why “Night of the Living Dead” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is so popular is due in large part to their entry into the Public Domain allowing theaters and TV stations to show them without paying royalties.

One of the biggest complaints about Roku when it first came out was that many of the channels all had the same videos on it and were poor quality, but that was largely due to them being in the public domain. Maybe an infusion of new choices will jazz up some of these channels.

1923 was still the silent era for movies with the first ‘synchronized sound’ for both singing and speaking in the movie not arriving until 1927 with ‘The Jazz Singer’. By 1930 sound was the norm. Color, being very expensive in the early 20th Century, was usually delegated to animation and video shorts, but some color silent pictures do exist. In the 30’s Color was beginning to be used in big budget films like ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ in 1938 with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’ both being shown for the first time in 1939.

I’m counting down the days until January 1, 2027 when movies from 1931 will enter the public domain, I want to create a Roku Channel showcasing some of the great works from this year. ‘Dracula’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Public Enemy’ and ‘Little Caesar’ are just a few of the movies that I’m looking forward to sharing with the public and I admit that I keep an especially close eye out for movies from the 30’s that I can purchase on DVD or Bluray so that I can use them and this is why January 1 should become an important date for those who stream. Our selection of material to choose from is going to only get more robust with each passing year. The public domain drought is coming to an end and we will be the ones who benefit from it the most and be the ones it impacts first.