Public Domain

Sherlock

The beginning of a calendar year is an active time for the serious movie-watcher. Besides providing the most accelerated moment of awards pre-season and a profusion of top 10 lists, the new year also portends surprises from the influx of films annually chosen for preservation by the NFPB and the new streaming contracts that motivate some heavy updates on your Netflix queue. But the Duke School of Law has also annually contributed another litany of films to these annual aggregations: films (and other creative works) that, as of January 1st of each year, they argue should be, but aren’t, added to the public domain. According to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, if the Copyright Act of 1976 (which went into effect in 1978) had never been passed, as of last week many works from 1957 would go into public domain in the United States, including classic films like David Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai, Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, the great Elvis flick Jailhouse Rock, the original 3:10 to Yuma, Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, and so on. Some of these works have gone into public domain in Canada and Western Europe as a result of more lax copyright laws abroad.

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Meet Jeromie Whalen. By day, he works as a project coordinator for a non-profit media center. By night, he’s trying to make it easier for everyone to legally find free movies online. Feel free to thank him when you take a break from watching movies. Specifically, Whalen has created a YouTube channel called Freemeo Movies that plays host to full-length, public domain movies. All ad-free. I was planning on getting an exact number for this piece but, well, there a ton of them — almost exclusively from the 30s and 40s. Some have thousands of views, some only 3. Some are famous flicks featuring actors like Cary Grant and John Wayne, others are sprung from cinema’s oubliette to have a new shot at life. All of them deserve a chance to be seen. As the story hit Reddit, Whalen had already spent a ton of personal time finding films, ensuring their copyright status and then uploading them with complete profiles and poster art. This is the Lord’s work, and naturally I had some questions. Fortunately, Whalen offered some insights into why he’s doing it and what we need to know when it comes to enjoying (and using) stuff in the public domain.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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