Navigating the Public Domain and Copyright
It’s officially 2022! And as a new year begins it’s a time for new beginnings, new goals and a time for new characters, movies, songs books etc to enter the public domain.
Why? Because January 1st isn’t just New Years Day, it’s also ‘public domain day’. Public domain day is an observance of when copyrights expire and works enter into the public domain.
What is Public Domain?
The public domain is defined as “the state of belonging or being available to the public as a whole, especially through not being subject to copyright or other legal restrictions.” Essentially, what this means is once a piece of work enters the public domain, it’s free for anyone to use, edit or adapt.
You may have seen memes and videos of people online talking about Winnie the Pooh over the past couple of days. This is because the first Winnie the Pooh book is now in the public domain in the United States, as it was first published 96 years ago. But before you get excited, it’s not in the public domain yet here in the UK. We spoke to Michael Downing of Downing IP on the topic:
“US laws are different in relation to copyright term. UK law is a bit different and has usually applied new rules on expiry dates to any works that are still in copyright. So A.A.Milne died in 1956, hence the copyrights in his works expire 70 years later - i.e. 2026. The illustrations were by E.H.Shepard though, who died in 1976, so copyright in those well-known images don’t expire until 2046!”
So we won’t be able to use the adorable character for a few more years in the UK; as Michael pointed out, E.H Shepard drew the original illustrations, so he owned the copyright to the image. This is something you need to be very careful of when using someone else’s work, multiple people can have copyright over different elements.
Here at Take One we sometimes use elements of music and images in our work created by other artists, and it’s very important that we always make sure that we have permission to use them. The way we usually go about this is to use royalty free images/music where possible, and if not then we purchase images and music from sites like Pond5 and Shutterstock.
On a few occasions we have had clients that wanted specific pieces of music, if this is the case then you need to contact the company or person who handles the copyright of that song and get permission from them. That can be a long process in some cases as there may be multiple owners of different types of copyright on the same item.
Over the past couple of years, companies such as Facebook and YouTube have started using AI to detect copyrighted material on their sites. This means if you upload a video to YouTube with a copyrighted song or a scene from a copyrighted movie, for example, YouTube will detect it and can block your video from being seen. When you upload copyrighted material you will either get a copyright claim or a copyright strike, if you repeatedly break the copyright rules you can end up with your channel being deleted.
There are plenty of songs, movies, plays and books out there in the public domain, free for anyone to use. If there is something that you’d like to use in a project, it’s always best to double check if it is copyright free. Remember that copyright law is different in different countries and it is also different depending on what type of ‘work’ it is. You can see the copyright rules here on the government website.