Welcome to the Sunday Movie Matinee homepage. This blog is all about my show on Community Access called... The Sunday Movie Matinee! ...where each week you'll see some of the best, and the worst films ever to grace the silver screen, along with cartoons, comedy shorts and classic cliff-hanger serials from the heyday of Hollywood's movie palaces.
The movies come from my library of American motion pictures generally regarded as public domain titles. How does a movie become public domain? That's a good question. The US Copyright Office is in the business of registering and protecting copyrights. Before 1978 motion pictures could be copyrighted for 56 years, but you had to do it in two 28 year segments. If you failed to renew the registration during the calendar year of the 28th year, then your motion picture’s copyright expired and the movie became public domain. So that means movies made before 1950 can be in the Public Domain if their owner failed to renew the copyright. For movies created between 1950 and 1964, failure to renew would still mean the copyright expired at the end of the 28th calendar year. For movies created after 1964 it's too complicated to be worth my time.
But how could this happen? How could someone be so careless as to let their copyright lapse? Well, studio ownership changed, administrative mistakes happened, and I guess some people just didn't get around to filing their papers on time. Maybe there wasn't a lot of interest in some movies after 26 years... what with Television, Widescreen technology and Color! Whatever the reason, rules are rules. For more information, check out the US Copyright Office's web page. They give a great breakdown of what the laws were (and are), when they changed and the impact of those changes.
Also, if the owner of a movie can show that the underlying story (from which the movie was made) is still under copyright (and the screenplay was not written as a "work for hire", nor was it copyrighted separately from the movie) then the owner of the copyrighted story can claim copyright protection. The images and audio from the movie are still in the public domain, but the story is not. That means you can use excerpts, but nothing so long as to convey the story. And the music... well, that’s another story.
It can get very complicated. But don’t take my word for it. I’m not in the business of giving out legal advice. Fortunately, the US Copyright Office will (for a fee) research the copyright registration of any motion picture and tell you whether or not there is a valid copyright currently on file.
So what is Public Domain? Well, that's for next time. Meanwhile, keep checking back and I'll be posting links to where you can download each week's Sunday Movie Matinee... for your iPod or your TiVo... for free. Or you can tune in to KMVT15, Community Access for Mountain View, Cupertino and Los Altos on Comcast Channel 15.
Please respect Copyright Law and protect the Public Domain.
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