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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:00 PM   #1
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Has it really fallen into the public domain

My (day job) company has the rights to some 70s made for TV cartoons - christmas specials and the like. They were made by one of the co-owners of the company and his family, and he currently either owns the rights in entirity, or is the legal representitive of the rights holders. They are Canadian productions made in 1977 to 1979.

Each video has a copyright 1977 or whatever message as part of the end titles. AFAIK they were not registered in the USA.

They were broadcast in the USA by ABC under license. Someone in Texas taped them off air, claims that they are now "public domain" and is allowing many companies to release them on VHS and DVD throughout the USA and Canada, and the rest of the world.

On contacting the Texan, they show us copyright searches that come up with them being public domain, and claim that because the USA didn't sign Berne until 1989 that they are out of copyright. We couldn't quite beleive what we were hearing, hence my question:

Is there any chance they could be out of copyright or public domain??

Graeme
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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:04 PM   #2
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Sounds more like a question for a legal forum than a video forum. Even if someone here says exactly what you think the right answer is, will you trust it enough to stake your business on it?
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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:09 PM   #3
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I know what I think, but I'm trying to give some confidence to the people here who are really annoyed with what the Texan told them - we're just trying to do our research while we gather together all our stuff to go off to a USA copyright lawyer. I've been reading through appropriate USA copyright law, and I don't see that we could have fallen out of copyright.

Also, the problem would seem not to be just us, but the people who are doing this have massive libraries of "public domain" stuff they're selling in a similar fashion.

Thanks,

Graeme
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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:14 PM   #4
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Really hard to say, but I would be pretty skeptical if I were you.
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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:30 PM   #5
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The Berne convention would have retroactive clauses. Otherwise, no use in signing it. Been awhile since I've read it. I believe the works would still be protected even before Berne under separate agreements. The 70s is not old enough to lapse into PD if I remember this subject well enough.
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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:33 PM   #6
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The Berne convention would be retroactive. Otherwise, no use in signing it. I believe the works would still be protected even before Berne under separate agreements. The 70s is not old enough to lapse into PD if I remember this subject well enough. Obviously on such an issue you need real legal advice.
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Old July 28th, 2004, 12:35 PM   #7
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Just because something was broadcast, does not make it public domain. The only thing "like" that in the US is that it is legal to 'receive' it, such as any radio transmissions. But because you receive it, does not transfer rights to you or make it public domain. If that were true, almost all music would be free to use as you saw fit the moment it was broadcast.

Sounds like legal representation is in your future.
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Old July 28th, 2004, 01:06 PM   #8
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<<<-- Originally posted by George Ellis : Sounds like legal representation is in your future. -->>>

Maybe one of the forum members like Stephen van Vuuren would like to chime in. Surely with a production company name like "sevensmilingsharks", they have several lawyers on staff. ; )
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Old July 28th, 2004, 04:55 PM   #9
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There are some circumstances under which it might have fallen into the public domain. There's no way that I, or any other lawyer, could tell you without a lot more information. Rather than try to get general feedback here, you need to contact a US IP attorney.

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Old July 29th, 2004, 07:49 AM   #10
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That's our next step and we're on to it - just thought the story might be interesting, or it might have happened to someone else, or someone might have insight. Thanks,

Graeme
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Old July 30th, 2004, 01:24 AM   #11
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Here's a quote from George Romero on what happened with the copyright on "Night of the Living Dead." Just thought you might find the story interesting.

"When we made the original film we titled it Night of the Flesh Eaters. We registered that title with the copyright office, but at the last minute the producers changed the title to Night of the Living Dead and neglected to copyright the new title, leaving us without rights to our own film, which is why you see so many people putting it out on video and DVD all the time. The 1990 remake directed by Tom Savini was an attempt to reclaim some of the rights."
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Old July 30th, 2004, 06:15 AM   #12
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That explanation makes no sense and cannot be right. You don't copyright a title. Something more must have happened.
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Old July 30th, 2004, 08:29 AM   #13
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It does sound strange but several people and websites have posted this quote. Maybe Romero neglected to hire a copyright lawyer when the potential infringement took place.

In any case, several companies did make DVDs of NLD. That part is true. That no action was taken is also true. I suspect they (the various companies) wouldn't have re-released it on DVD if they felt they were going to get sued. Somehow NLD "fell" into public domain due to some "action/inaction" on his part.

I suspect one might track the copyright owner and the copyright renewal (or lack of) based on the copyright renewal laws which may have been in effect at the time.
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Old July 30th, 2004, 10:03 AM   #14
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Right, possible ways of losing a copyright include not renewing it. I think there might have been mandatory registration requirements back then too. Certainly there are no longer though. So all I mean to say is that explanation can't be right, but the original movie still may be public domain.
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