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Kevin Kline

[OT] When Does Media Content -Truly- Become Public Domain?

I've always been intrigued by our process for allowing creative content, such as songs or movies, to become public domain. A common usage for public domain might be to create a short family video and, seeking a peppy and familiar piece of background music, you settle on "The Entertainer", by Scott Joplin. (If you've never heard of it, listen here. You'll recognize it.)  Since the music is past the 75 year limit of copyright protection, it is now public domain - meaning that you don't have to pay or seek permission to use it for your family home video.

Now, it seems that many old media companies are deliberately destroying great old celluloid video footage rather than allow it to become public domain.  Of course, there's plenty of old TV programming that don't have a single living fan, but we're talkin' about classics here like Jack Benny and the BBC's Dr Who.  Read this news story and this one for an example.

So, what do you think? Is this a misuse of private ownership of aging IP?  Is this just another example of old media putting their finger in the dike of digital entertainment for the sake of a dying business model?

I find this to be particularly ironic since old media companies are the first to exploit public domain material for their own uses. Case in point, what's the last Disney animated film you've seen (no, not Pixar - Disney) that wasn't adapted from an age old story?



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Published Wednesday, January 20, 2010 8:28 PM by KKline

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Denny Cherry said:

Shhh, your starting to make sense, and logic escapes large companies.

January 20, 2010 9:16 PM

mjswart said:

Disney animated films I've seen lately:

Emperor's New Groove, Lilo And Stitch, Brother Bear (Does Enchanted count?) Those are all original stories. Disney hasn't been releasing a lot of animated films lately without Pixar. I can think of Bolt & Princess and the Frog. Only the last one is adapted. That said, I hear Rapunzel is due this year.

But I see your point, CBS destroying old footage for selfish reminds me a lot about burning books. But can Disney/ABC and CBC be painted with the same brush?

January 21, 2010 9:18 AM

KKline said:

Denny, not just large companies, but their lawyers!

Michael, I don't mean to say that you should paint Disney/ABC and CBS with the same brush.  Only that many old media companies are more than happy to exploit public domain content when it is available but, ironically, they are loath to allow their own content fall into the public domain.  

The Jack Benny situation reminds me of a forester who's willing to burn down their entire forest rather than allow someone else to use it.  Seems like a wicked thing to do.  My hope is that these companies will come around and, perhaps, even find a way to monetize their content and open it up to the public.


January 21, 2010 9:46 AM

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About KKline

Kevin Kline is a well-known database industry expert, author, and speaker. Kevin is a long-time Microsoft MVP and was one of the founders of PASS,

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