Public domain characters


  • SVS OG

    My husband stumbled across this
    public domain characters list and I immediately thought of all my friends at SVS. I’m not sure if someone has already posted this. I have listened to the guys talk about fan art legality many times. But I can remember public domain coming up. This is a list of well known (and not so well known ) characters in the public domain. I wonder about some of them - Dare Devil and Thor and John Carter have obviously had reboots. Are they now off the list? Or can that even Happen? Anyone know how that works? When a big studio makes a show like Daredevil does it buy the rights so that it is no longer in the public domain? Or is it free for them AND for anyone else to use? Obviously, it would be more questionable to do fan art based on the new studio version of whatever it is, but what if it’s your own?



  • I can understand Thor being on the list as he's a Norse god. So long as it's an original interpretation and doesn't copy Marvel/Disney's Thor an artist should be fine. Daredevil being on the list makes me think the list isn't all that reliable. Just doesn't sound right.


  • SVS OG

    @IanS right? I was wondering about that too... unless it has to do with the original copyright timeframe.



  • Hi. It's definitely worth noting that the Daredevil listed on that site is not Marvel's Daredevil. Although there are similarities between the characters (agile martial artists). The Daredevil that's in the public domain is Bart Hill (not Matthew Murdock). He fought in WWII and doesn't have impaired vision or preternatural hearing.

    As for characters that have had reboots - I don't think that transfers ownership of the IP to whoever produces the reboot. I could produce work using John Carter without fearing reprisal from Disney as long as I didn't replicate anything unique that Disney brought to the character or story. For instance, if I drew the 4-armed white apes in exactly the way Disney designed them, I'd be infringing on their unique IP. But the apes themselves are part of the original story, and therefore free game, as long as I come up with my own way of depicting them.

    Please note: I'm not an Intellectual Properties Lawyer, I'm merely offering what I understand to be the rules in such cases.



  • I’m wondering if Felix the Cat is truly in the public domain. I think Dreamworks purchased fashion rights to the character to celebrate his 100th anniversary this year.

    But I’m confused about what public domain really means. For instance, Popeye is in the public domain in Canada. Not sure how. Isn’t the law something like 70 years after the death of the creator?


  • SVS OG

    @danielerossi I’m confused about the public domain laws too. It seems like the only way to be legit is to talk to a lawyer about everything. There’s a story I’m working on illustrating right now. It’s in the public domain, but I wouldn’t be confident enough to try and sell my version of it without getting legal advice. Especially because it’s a known author. It makes me wonder if the estate that manages his work still has some control over it.



  • @Pamela-Fraley Definitely check. Not illustration-related but a good example of how complex the whole concept of public domain and copyright can get — You know that War of the Worlds radio play from 1938 that scared a few people into believing aliens from Mars were attacking the world? The recording of it is in the public domain as well as the script (I believe). However, performing that script is not in the public domain. Not sure why or how that is!



  • THANK YOU!!!!!



  • @danielerossi the original War of the Worlds by HG Wells is in the public domain but the radio version probably still owned by Orson Welles estate. So you would need buy a public performance license to perform it.


  • SVS OG

    @sigross yea. That’s why I think getting legal advice on individual cases is important.



  • @Pamela-Fraley yes worth looking at cases and how they turned out. Even if you're in the right you may get bullied into taking stuff down with a legal letter and the threat of court, which can be very expensive. The funny thing is that big studios have nicked their ideas from other stories anyway. Things like Star Wars is a remake of The Hidden Fortress. The beginning of Spirited Away is from Homer's The Odyssey where Odysseus visits the Goddess Circe's island. Find the source of a story and create your own characters and narrative. Do Ancient Fan Art, you'll never get sued for being that retro!


  • SVS OG

    @sigross said in Public domain characters:
    Do Ancient Fan Art, you'll never get sued for being that retro!

    HaHa! So true!



  • @sigross said in Public domain characters:

    The funny thing is that big studios have nicked their ideas from other stories anyway. Things like Star Wars is a remake of The Hidden Fortress. The beginning of Spirited Away is from Homer's The Odyssey where Odysseus visits the Goddess Circe's island.

    cough Simba vs. Kimba/The Lion King cough



  • @danielerossi I'll have read about that, total ripoff at first glance. I have to confess that I've never watched the Lion King.



  • Thanks for sharing it Pam.
    I’m sure I heard that the first Mickey Mouse had reached its copyright end and now was in the public domain.
    I don’t know if this meant Mickey Mouse was public domain (surely not) or the first version of the character, or just the video of the 1st episode.



  • I double checked the Micky Mouse copyright. (Didn’t want anyone to get in trouble)

    https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/01/a-whole-years-worth-of-works-just-fell-into-the-public-domain/

    “On January 1, 2024, we'll see the expiration of the copyright for Steamboat Willie—and with it Disney's claim to the film's star, Mickey Mouse. The copyrights to Superman, Batman, Disney's Snow White, and early Looney Tunes characters will all fall into the public domain between 2031 and 2035.

    The expiration of copyrights for characters like Mickey Mouse and Batman will raise tricky new legal questions. After 2024, Disney won't have any copyright protection for Mickey's original incarnation. But Disney will still own copyrights for later incarnations of the character—and it will also own Mickey-related trademarks.”



  • @peteolczyk Sounds like we’d be able to use the old incarnation of Mickey but not his name.


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