Happy Public Domain Day!

Just a quick post today but I wanted to remind everyone that today, for the first time in two decades, an entire year of content has entered the public domain in the United States. The films and books of 1923 are no longer under copyright!

That means Safety Last!, A Woman of Paris and The Ten Commandments, along with hundreds of other silent films, are out of copyright jail. I am actually more excited about the obscure silents that were not famous enough to be released on home video but were still under copyright.

(Please note that scores, restored title cards and other elements may still be under copyright. Also, copyright and access restrictions are not the same thing so a film entering public domain does not guarantee release, especially if the original studio controls the lone surviving print.)

On the lit side of things, works from D.H. Lawrence to Agatha Christie are entering the public domain and will likely be available for free digitally very soon, if they aren’t already.

I am tickled pink and hope this will lead to some “lost” silent films miraculously reemerging. I am personally wishing for Flaming Youth, Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Isle of Lost Ships and the rest of Suzanna. Hey, dream big, right?

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10 Replies to “Happy Public Domain Day!”

  1. Hi Fritzi, offhand can you think of other 1923 “lost” silent films that could be lurking in a collector’s stash that might see the light of day now? I know there must be lots from 1923, but I am wondering if you know of any other heavy hitters from that year? Also very glad that this will likely lead to the DVD release of “The Spanish Dancer” — more Pola is a good thing.

    1. Not sure if they’re heavy enough hitters but I’d love to see Miss Suwanna of Siam, I Will Repay and The Brass Bottle.

      I don’t know if The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots is lost or not but it’s another I would love to watch.

  2. Not wishing to a wet blanket, but considering that there is A LOT of effort and money required to bring a silent movie back to life, just as much as I would like to see these films, I think copyright should largely stay intact. Otherwise, what incentive will Kino, Flicker, or any of the others have to bring them to the marketplace? What could/should be in the public domain is the cruddy/muddy mess that an unrestored movie was found in. ANY cleanup, reassembly or other restoration ought to result in a NEW 75+ year copyright to whoever is taking the project on.

    An example I have seen is Clara Bow’s “Get Your Man.” Parts of of it are still missing, and the cleaned up version shows several scenes fading to black. If that is the best that could be put out, I shudder to think what shape the original print was in.

    I hope Flicker Alley made back their investment in 1927’s Children of Divorce. Already someone has posted it at the Internet Archive in its entirety…

    1. I was able to release my silent film DVD entirely because of the public domain. It’s all well and good to say that copyright encourages restorations but the thousands of silent films moldering away under copyright, unreleased and unrestored, rather prove that this is not always the case. I’ll take my chances on the new wild west.

      1. … but what would you think if somebody takes Kidnapped 1917 and puts IT on the internet archive? You did significant work to put that together, but if it is “all in the public domain,” except as a labor of love, why would someone put forth the effort? Is Kidnapped 1917 under Movies Silently copyright in some way?

        Somebody has/had to clean nitrate prints up for showing, and if the first instance of digital access results in the work being put out for free, I’ll bet most of the now public domain films will simply remain in the vaults or museums.

      2. The scores and the reconstructed title cards are copyrighted.

        The Library of Congress, for example, has been busily restoring many public domain films over the years and crowdfunding (assuming access restrictions are not in place) makes releasing easier than ever. The studios… Not so much. Paramount is releasing some reasonably obscure silents now and I am grateful but it is the exception rather than the rule. If the studios were making their works available, this would all be a moot point but they aren’t and so it’s up to fans and nerds (as always) to save the day.

  3. I wonder what the harvest will be !

    The experience 20 years ago could be a guide, though things have changed since then. Now there’s the technology to produce DVDs cheaply, on an on-demand basis, without needing to be sure of selling a big production run. That’s got to help.

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