Public Domain Videos

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  • Hello
    I have a question about public domain videos - whether or not there is such a thing? Please bear with me as a novice to copyright (Carrie R. your book is on order with us!) We are a public library and have been buying licenses for movie programs. However, one of our branches wants to show an U.S. produced 1950s era video at the library (no specific title at this point) and thinks they don't need a license because it may qualify under 'public domain.' The public domain chart this site links to describes works published in the U.S. with or without copyright notice. Would most videos as well as books have been copyrighted during that period? I'm wondering if there is a blanket yes or not answer here or if each video needs to be looked up individually(if so, where)?
    Thank you
    Lib Linda
  • There are certainly public domain videos--either because:

    1. They were created by an agency of the federal government

    2. They were released without copyright notice at a time when such notice was required (highly unlikely for commercial films or videos!)

    3. They're old enough so that copyright has lapsed in any case -- the general charts should be relevant there. Not that there are a lot of pre-1923 videos/films...

    4. They were registered during the period when renewal was required (1923-1963), and weren't renewed. That one happens more than you'd expect.

    I wish I had a way to research #4, but I don't. (Doesn't mean there isn't one .The links in the Public Domain chart may be helpful.)
  • Waltc has given an excellent reply I would just add that yes, it is quite likely that a video or book produced in the 1950s video is still protected. But there is no blanket yes or no answer here-- each video needs to be looked up individually. You might start with Circular 22 produced by the U.S. Copyright Office on “How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work,â€? at, and Circular 23 on “The Copyright Card Catalog and the Online Files of the Copyright Office,â€? at The card catalog contains information on registrations through 1977; the online catalog starts in 1978 for most types of works. The website of the U.S. Copyright Office provides general instructions on searching copyright records at

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