Researching copyright status of films

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  • We have just been given a 16mm copy of a film containing six experimental films originally created in the 1920's. I have not opened the can yet, but information with the can indicates production dates between 1920-30, and creators from France, German, and the Soviet Union. A faculty member want to make digital copies. My understanding is as follows:

    1. They may not be subject to copyright and have entered the public domain.
    2. If they are still subject to copyright then section 110 requires that I should not digitize if a digital copy is available from another source (i.e if Criterion had published DVD copies of these films.)
    3. Iin either case what sources can I use to research the copyright status (including any non-US copyright) of these films?

    Thanks for your help?

  • What a fun project! Here's my take on your questions:

    1. Depending on whether the films were actually published, the publication dates, where they were published (which is more important than where the creators are from), if there is copyright notice, whether they were registered and whether that registration was renewed, the works may or may not be in the public domain. You can probably feel pretty safe about material published in the US before 1923, but for any later films, you may need to determine one or more of these factors.

    2. I think you're basically right here. Section 108 could also apply, if you're talking about preservation within a library or archive, but if it's available for a fair purchase price, you should buy it either way.

    3. There are some helpful resources linked from the CAN wiki. See especially:

    Section 108 Spinner:
    Public Domain Slider:
    US Copyright Office, to search for registered works:
    Stanford University's Copyright Renewal Database:

    I'm not sure about resources for determining copyright status in other countries. Does any one else have any pointers?

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