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?