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Author Topic: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain  (Read 2997 times)

Eric

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Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« on: 23 Apr 2012, 04:07 »
I have no background in law, so I might be talking out of my ass here, but if my understanding is correct, a court ruling a few years ago clarified public domain in regards to animation so that anyone is free to distribute actual materials from cartoons that have fallen into the public domain, but are not allowed to create wholly new material or publicize their products through use of the still-protected trademark.

In the court case, a clothing company was using images of Betty Boop off of a poster that had never been copyrighted. Numerous other cartoons, especially those from Fleischer, have lapsed into the public domain. Numerous companies have pumped out copies of these cartoons in varying quality formats, unrestricted by copyright, and selling them under names like, "Classic Cartoons," instead of "Betty Boop."

If I'm interpreting the law correctly, this means they're available as assets to be used elsewhere as well (as in the precedent-setting case of the clothing manufacturer). My line of thinking is that something like Popeye Meets Ali Baba, which is public domain in the U.S., might provide enough useful backgrounds to furnish a short desert-based adventure game. If you're lazy, you might even find someone who's done the hard work of extracting some of the backgrounds for you.








I'm not sure how far this can be stretched (for instance, would trace-overs of walk cycles from PD cartoons be allowed?), and you probably don't want to make an actual Popeye game, but I thought I'd throw this out as food for thought. Perhaps someone with a better grasp of the legal system could clarify things.

kconan

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #1 on: 23 Apr 2012, 09:37 »
  Would look good provided you can at least somewhat match the art style for all the in-game assets.  I once tossed around a wargame idea before which involved using ancient art (bowman, swordsman, etc...), and the game itself would be set in that era.

Narushima

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #2 on: 23 Apr 2012, 21:51 »
Things do not automatically fall into public domain after a while. If somebody buys the rights, then it is copyrighted again.
For this specific animated film I do not know, but I would wager that the character of Popeye is still copyrighted.

If the animated is public domain and not the characters, it would still be hard to claim you can use the backgrounds as you wish, as the copyright holders may make the point that they're both indistinguishable from each other.

But a lawyer would certainly provide better answers.

Hudders

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #3 on: 23 Apr 2012, 21:58 »
Things do not automatically fall into public domain after a while.

It depends on the age of the work. This particular movie is definitely in the public domain since it was made in 1937 and even if its copyright had been extended to its full extent, it still would have gone into the public domain in 2004. You can make derivative works of public domain content without asking permission so I believe, in this case, using the artwork in a game would be permitted.

Where it gets a little hazier is in more recent works. Copyright laws being what they are, it's unlikely that anything produced today will ever lapse into the public domain during our lifetimes through the age of the work alone. A shame really.

Snarky

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #4 on: 23 Apr 2012, 23:43 »
It depends on the age of the work. This particular movie is definitely in the public domain since it was made in 1937 and even if its copyright had been extended to its full extent, it still would have gone into the public domain in 2004. You can make derivative works of public domain content without asking permission so I believe, in this case, using the artwork in a game would be permitted.

Not true. The current US copyright term is 95 years pretty much across the board for corporate and work-for-hire productions (where do you get 67 from?), so if the copyright was extended back in the day, it won't enter the public domain until 2032.

If all corporate copyrighted works from 1937 had been in the public domain since 2004 (and presumably another 8 years since then, up to 1945), that would be huge. I don't know that Mickey and Superman would be pd (presumably Disney and DC would try to have the courts use the creator's death + 70 years system instead), but it would at least be open to interpretation.

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #5 on: 23 Apr 2012, 23:49 »
It's an interesting and tricky area, and whether we understand the law or not you can bet Disney lawyers are trying to rewrite it.

If you were to make a public domain game, I think public domain would have to be a feature of the narrative in some way. I wouldn't be terribly interested in any old game which used these backgrounds. I'd want it to be finding an interesting approach to the debate around intellectual property.

Eric

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #6 on: 24 Apr 2012, 00:30 »
If all corporate copyrighted works from 1937 had been in the public domain since 2004 (and presumably another 8 years since then, up to 1945), that would be huge. I don't know that Mickey and Superman would be pd (presumably Disney and DC would try to have the courts use the creator's death + 70 years system instead), but it would at least be open to interpretation.

Interestingly, this will happen even as Warner Bros. (owners of DC Comics) screws over the estates of those creators in court. But yes, public domain law is widely coupled with Mickey Mouse whenever it comes up in conversation, as Disney is a prime force behind copyright extension.

I think it's also important to note that copyright and trademark are two separate things. I believe that, when/if Superman falls into the public domain, you still can't do business under the Superman name, or use the Superman emblem.

Such is the case with those beautiful Fleischer Superman cartoons that are also public domain.

If you were to make a public domain game, I think public domain would have to be a feature of the narrative in some way. I wouldn't be terribly interested in any old game which used these backgrounds. I'd want it to be finding an interesting approach to the debate around intellectual property.

I think it would depend on the game, the characters, the story, and how the backgrounds were used. I wouldn't necessarily say that it had to deal with PD. I'd guess that most people, if they saw these in a game, wouldn't be able to spot them as being from a Popeye cartoon anyway.

I could also see them being used in an Epic Mickey fashion, with a character entering classic cartoons.

Hudders

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #7 on: 24 Apr 2012, 15:14 »
It depends on the age of the work. This particular movie is definitely in the public domain since it was made in 1937 and even if its copyright had been extended to its full extent, it still would have gone into the public domain in 2004. You can make derivative works of public domain content without asking permission so I believe, in this case, using the artwork in a game would be permitted.

Not true. The current US copyright term is 95 years pretty much across the board for corporate and work-for-hire productions (where do you get 67 from?), so if the copyright was extended back in the day, it won't enter the public domain until 2032.

If all corporate copyrighted works from 1937 had been in the public domain since 2004 (and presumably another 8 years since then, up to 1945), that would be huge. I don't know that Mickey and Superman would be pd (presumably Disney and DC would try to have the courts use the creator's death + 70 years system instead), but it would at least be open to interpretation.

95 years if the copyright is renewed. It was a maximum of 67 pre-2002.

But, anyway, I don't believe the copyright was renewed:

If you look at the distributor credits for "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029415/companycredits you can see that Reel Media International distributed it in 2004. Reel Media International only distributes public domain material, so it's a safe bet that it's in the public domain.

Other useful links:
http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm
http://collections.stanford.edu/copyrightrenewals/bin/page?forward=home

Snarky

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #8 on: 24 Apr 2012, 17:15 »
Yeah, but the copyright extensions are retroactive, they apply to all works that are still in copyright, so it doesn't matter what the rule was in 2002 if the work hadn't already expired.

And yes, I'm sure Eric is right that this one wasn't renewed and hence did expire. But your claim that the copyright on any movie made in 1937 expired by 2004 at the latest was simply wrong. As the sites you link make clear, if it was published in 1923 or later, it may still be under copyright. (I was unaware that the "70 years after the death of the author" rule is only relevant for works after 1978, though.)

Hudders

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #9 on: 24 Apr 2012, 20:23 »
Sorry, I didn't mean to give that impression.

Eric

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #10 on: 24 Apr 2012, 22:00 »
With these early cartoons, it's fairly easy to know which are in the public domain and which aren't, as the PD cartoons are widely known as such. There's probably a list on Cartoon Brew somewhere.

My question was whether the PD only covered redistribution of the cartoon as a whole, or whether one could break it down into distinct elements. Which, thinking back, is kind of a silly question, because that's sort of why PD exists in the first place.

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Re: Thinking "aloud" re: public domain
« Reply #11 on: 27 Apr 2012, 09:34 »
Eric, if I were you I would just make the game, release it on the Internet (for free, of course) and worry about any greedy copyright laws later. If you have a creative idea like this that isn't entirely based on being lazy, you shouldn't let something like that get in your way of expressing yourself.