List of films in the public domain in the United States
This is a list of films that certain cited sources believe are in the public domain in the United States. Being in the public domain refers to cinematic, dramatic, literary, musical and artistic works that no government, organization, or individual owns, and as such is common property.
Note: Films in this list may incorporate elements from other works that are still under copyright, even though the film itself is out of copyright.
Copyrightable elements of a film 
There is no official list of films (or other works) in the public domain. It is more difficult to determine the public domain status of film than for any other medium because a film can incorporate any or all of the following copyrightable elements:
- Graphical characters (e.g., Bugs Bunny)
- Fictional characters (e.g., James Bond)
Film copyright involves the copyright status of multiple elements that make up the film. A film can lose its copyright in some of those elements while retaining copyright in other elements. Experts in the field of public domain sometimes differ in their opinions as to whether a particular film is in the public domain.
The use of music in a film can cause uncertainty with regard to copyright. As of 2010, it is not known whether the use of music in a movie constitutes publication of the music for the purpose of copyright. This is important because unpublished works are treated differently from published works under US copyright law.)
Judicial interpretation of public domain 
Judges, too, differ in their interpretation of the laws governing copyright protection. The United States is a “patchwork quilt” of inconsistent copyright rules in different federal judicial districts. The courts of one jurisdiction are not obliged to follow the decisions of another. The U.S. Supreme Court (which could resolve those inconsistencies) very seldom decides copyright cases, and then only when an important principle is involved.
Documenting public domain status 
If a film appears on the list below, there is a high probability it has lost some or all of its United States copyright protection or in the case of U.S. government films, was never protected by copyright.
There is no single method for determining if a film, or parts of it, is in the public domain. There are several methods that can be used to document a film’s public domain status. These include the following:
Date of publication 
All motion pictures made and exhibited before 1923 are indisputably in the public domain in the United States. Before the passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) in 1998, the term of copyright in the U.S. was a maximum of 75 years, with the work entering the public domain on January 1 of the 76th year from creation (so, for example, a film made in 1930 whose copyright was properly registered and renewed would enter the public domain on January 1, 2006). Although the CTEA added 20 years to the terms of all existing copyrights, it explicitly refused to revive any copyrights that had expired prior to its passage.
Work of the United States government 
All copyrightable works made by United States government employees as part of their official duties are in the public domain from their creation. The status of works made by contractors is dependent on the terms of their contract. Note that this applies only to the federal government, and not to state or local governments, which may or may not claim copyright depending on state laws.
Determine copyright registration 
Motion picture copyright registrations prior to 1978 were published in semi-annual Copyright Catalogs. The Library of Congress also published cumulative Copyright Catalogs of motion picture registrations for the periods
All are out of print. However, the Film Superlist series is a complete reprint of all registrations in the Copyright Catalogs for 1894 through 1959. There is no cumulative Copyright Catalog for 1970–1977; the Copyright Office published 16 semi-annual Copyright Catalog booklets covering that eight-year period, but all are out of print and extremely rare. All copyright registrations from 1978 onward are online at the Library of Congress website.
Some films listed on this page were not registered, but it is unwise to presume an unregistered film is entirely copyright free without doing further research. For example, This Is the Army had no copyright registration, but it is a musical with several Irving Berlin songs, all of which were registered for copyright and renewed. The movie is shown on Turner Classic Movies, presumably with permission from the Berlin estate.
Some decades of The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures include copyright registration information for feature films (not shorts) of United States origin. This can include a statement that research failed to disclose copyright registration for a particular film. Copyright registration information is given in the following:
- The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, 1931–1940; ISBN 0-913616-00-1
- The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures, 1941–1950; ISBN 0-913616-39-7
The United States copyright website catalogs all the works prior to 1978 that have been renewed. Several pieces of work have been renewed in the form of collections, thus giving the collection as a whole copyright protection.
Copyright renewal status 
For films registered in 1923–1963 inclusive, it is essential to know the renewal status. The semi-annual Copyright Catalog booklets have virtually complete (at least 99.99%) lists of renewals for the films registered 28 years earlier. Those semi-annual booklets all are out of print. However, for 1923 through 1959, the Film Superlist books match copyright renewals with earlier registrations. Copyright registrations and renewals can be found in
- Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain 1894-1939 (Volume 1)
- Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain 1940-1949 (Volume 2)
- Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain 1950-1959 (Volume 3)
In 1992, Congress changed the copyright law to make renewal automatic for copyrights registered in 1964 and later.
Underlying rights 
Many of the movies listed below are based on plays, novels, magazine stories or a combination of those sources. In some cases, a film’s copyright has lapsed because of non-renewal while the underlying literary or dramatic source is still protected by copyright. For example, the movie His Girl Friday (1940) became a public domain film in 1969 because it was not renewed, but it is based on the 1928 play The Front Page, which is still under copyright until 2024 and thus as a practical matter the film can't be used without permission.
Studio and distributor abbreviations 
- AA – Allied Artists
- AIP – American International Pictures
- MGM – Metro Goldwyn Mayer
- PRC – Producers Releasing Corporation
- UA – United Artists
- WB – Warner Bros.
Any film that was first published before 1923 has been released already in the public domain in the United States for either expired copyright or failure to comply with copyright laws, such as omission of notice, failure to deposit a copy to the Copyright Office within demanded time, or no renewal registration. Therefore, it is not listed here: see Category:Films by year for pre-1923 films.
With an exception, if it has been released to the public domain under only special circumstances not previously mentioned, a pre-1923 film must be listed here.
Note: This list is not comprehensive, rather only those films where a reliable source is available to verify Public Domain status. Films without a reliable source in the "Reasons" column should be removed. Archive.org is not a reliable source (see talk page discussion).
|Film title||Release year||Director||Studio / Distributor||Entered PD in (year)||Reason for entering PD||Note(s)|
|Angel and the Badman||1947||James Edward Grant||Republic Pictures||1975||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Animal Kingdom||1932||Edward H. Griffith||RKO Radio Pictures||1960||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Algiers||1938||John Cromwell||United Artists||1966||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Beau Brummel||1924||Harry Beaumont||Warner Brothers||1952||Failure to renew copyright.|
(copyright notice: 1930)
|Herbert Brenon||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Behind Office Doors||1931||Melville W. Brown||RKO Radio Pictures||1959||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Bird of Paradise||1932||King Vidor||RKO Radio Pictures||1960||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Blood on the Sun||1945||Frank Lloyd||United Artists||1973||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Charade||1963||Stanley Donen||Universal Pictures||1963||Missing full copyright notice.||Original music still in copyright. Original story by Peter Stone still in copyright. Film remade in 2006 as The Truth About Charlie.|
|Check and Double Check||1930||Melville W. Brown||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Conspiracy||1930||Christy Cabanne||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Dance of Life||1929||John Cromwell||Paramount Pictures||1957||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Danger Lights||1930||George B. Seitz||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Dixiana||1930||Luther Reed||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
(copyright notice: 1949)
|Rudolph Maté||United Artists||1977||Failure to renew copyright.||Remade in 1969 and 1988|
|The Driller Killer||1979||Abel Ferrara||Cult Epics||1979||Missing notice and registration|
|Father's Little Dividend||1951
(copyright notice: 1950)
|Vincente Minnelli||MGM||1978||Failure to renew copyright.|
|A Farewell to Arms||1932||Frank Borzage||Paramount Pictures||1960||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The General||1927||Clyde Bruckman
|United Artists||1955||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Gold Rush||1925||Charlie Chaplin||United Artists||1953||Failure to renew copyright.||1942 revised version in copyright. Original 1925 version possibly copyrighted.|
|Go for Broke!||1951
(copyright notice: 1950)
|Robert Pirosh||MGM||1978||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Half Shot at Sunrise||1930||Paul Sloane||RKO Radio Productions||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Hemp for Victory||1942||Raymond Evans||U.S. Department of Agriculture||1942||Work of the United States Government [G]||U.S. government short|
|His Girl Friday||1940
(copyright date: 1939)
|Howard Hawks||Columbia Pictures||1967||Failure to renew copyright.||Source material (stage play The Front Page) rights copyright until 2024.|
|Hook, Line and Sinker||1930||Edward F. Cline||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Hunchback of Notre Dame||1923||Wallace Worsley||Universal Pictures||1951||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Inside the Lines||1930||Roy Pomeroy||RKO Radio Productions||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|It's a Wonderful Life||1946
(copyright notice: 1947)
|Frank Capra||Liberty Films
|1975||Failure to renew copyright.||While the film images are public domain, under rulings of Stewart v. Abend, the film text (script) is based on the copyrighted short story "The Greatest Gift". Republic also purchased exclusive rights to the movie’s copyrighted music to further shore up its rights.|
|Kept Husbands||1931||Lloyd Bacon||RKO Radio Productions||1959||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Lady Refuses||1931||George Archainbaud||RKO Radio Productions||1959||Failure to renew copyright.|
|A Lady to Love||1930||Victor Sjöström||MGM||1958||Failure to renew copyright.||Based on the play They Knew What They Wanted. See also the film The Secret Hour (1928) based on the same play.|
|The Last Time I Saw Paris||1954
(copyright notice: 1944)
|Richard Brooks||MGM||1972||Failure to renew copyright.||Music score still protected by copyright.|
|Lawful Larceny||1930||Lowell Sherman||RKO Radio Productions||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Leathernecking||1930||Edward F. Cline||RKO Radio Productions||1958||Failure to renew copyright.||Irene Dunne's film debut. It is a lost film.|
|Letter of Introduction||1938||John M. Stahl||Universal Pictures||1966||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Little Princess||1939||Walter Lang||Twentieth Century Fox||1967||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Little Shop of Horrors||1960||Roger Corman||Filmgroup||1988||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Lonely Wives||1931||Russell Mack||RKO Radio Pictures||1959||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Love Affair||1939||Leo McCarey||RKO Radio Pictures||1967||Failure to renew copyright.|
|March of the Wooden Soldiers||1948||Gus Meins||MGM||1948||Failure to display copyright notice.||This is a later abridgement of Babes in Toyland (1934) which is still in copyright. Public domain status unclear.|
|McLintock!||1963||Andrew V. McLaglen||United Artists||1991||Failure to renew copyright.||Music score still under copyright.|
|Meet John Doe||1941||Frank Capra||Warner Bros.||1969||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Millie||1931||John Francis Dillon||RKO Radio Pictures||1959||Failure to renew copyright.|
(copyright notice: 1950)
|Don Hartman||MGM||1978||Failure to renew copyright.|
|My Favorite Brunette||1947||Elliott Nugent||Paramount Pictures||1975||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Night of the Living Dead||1968||George A. Romero||Walter Reade||1968||Missing copyright notice||Remade in 1990 and 2006|
|Nothing Sacred||1937||William A. Wellman||Selznick
|1965||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Of Human Bondage||1934||John Cromwell||RKO Radio Pictures||1962||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Outlaw||1943||Howard Hughes||Howard Hughes Prod.||1971||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Painted Hills||1951||Harold F. Kress||MGM||1979||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Pay-Off||1930||Lowell Sherman||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Phantom of the Opera||1925||Rupert Julian||Universal Studios||1953||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Rain||1932||Lewis Milestone||United Artists||1960||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Rock, Rock, Rock!||1956||Will Price||Distributors Corporation of America||1984||Failure to renew copyright.||The Chuck Berry soundtrack may not be in the public domain.|
|The Royal Bed||1931
(copyright notice: 1930)
|Lowell Sherman||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
(copyright notice: 1950)
|Stanley Donen||MGM||1978||Failure to renew copyright.|
|The Secret Hour||1928||Rowland V. Lee||Paramount Pictures||1956||Failure to renew copyright.||Based on the play They Knew What They Wanted. See also the film A Lady to Love (1930) based on the same play.|
|The Silver Horde||1930||George Archainbaud||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Sin Takes a Holiday||1930||Paul L. Stein||RKO Radio Pictures||1958||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Sinners in Paradise||1938||James Whale||Universal Pictures||1966||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Smouldering Fires||1925||Clarence Brown||Universal Pictures||1953||Failure to renew copyright.|
|A Star Is Born||1937||William A. Wellman||SIP
|1965||Failure to renew copyright.||Re-made in 1954 and 1976|
|The Strange Love of Martha Ivers||1946||Lewis Milestone||Paramount Pictures||1974||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Swing High, Swing Low||1937||Mitchell Leisen||Paramount Pictures||1965||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Teenagers from Outer Space||1959||Tom Graeff||Warner Bros.||1987||Failed to renew copyright.|
|Three Guys Named Mike||1951
(copyright notice: 1950)
|Charles Walters||MGM||1978||Failed to renew copyright.|
|Till the Clouds Roll By||1946||Richard Whorf||MGM||1974||Failed to renew copyright.|
|Topper Returns||1941||Roy Del Ruth||United Artists||1969||Failure to renew copyright.|
(copyright notice: 1950)
|Richard Thorpe||MGM||1978||Failure to renew copyright.|
|Why We Fight||1942–1944||Frank Capra||United States Army Pictorial Services||1942–44||Work of the United States Government [G]|
|Wives Under Suspicion||1938||James Whale||Universal Pictures||1966||Failure to renew copyright.|
See also 
- History of film
- List of open content films
- Lists of films
- List of TV series with episodes in the public domain
- List of years in film
- Open source film
- Outline of film
- Public domain in the United States
- The Story of Film: An Odyssey
- "An Introduction to Films and Motion Pictures" at RoyaltyFreeMusic.com Retrieved August 4, 2009
- Rich, Lloyd L. (1998). "Protection of Graphic Characters". The Publishing Law Center. Retrieved 2012-1-20.
- Adler, Kenneth A. (1999-10-01). "Using Dramatic Characters in Multimedia Works - Avoiding the Pitfalls". Thelen LLP. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
- Fishman, Stephen (2010), pg.180
- Fishman, Stephen (2010), pg.181
- Hirtle, Peter B. (2010-10-04). "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States". Retrieved 2010-10-31.
- Film Superlist: Motion Pictures in the U.S. Public Domain (1940–1949), page xii.
- "United States Copyright Office Public Catalog". Retrieved 2009-10-10.
- Pierce, David (2001)
- Pierce, David (2007), pp.131-34
- Pierce, David (2007), "Notes", pp. 140-43
- Pierce, David (2007), p.130
- Online search results for keywords "Henry Mancini Charade", from US Copyright Office.
- The original story basis for Charade is 'The Unsuspecting Wife' by Peter Stone and Marc Behm, which appeared in the July 1961 issue of Redbook magazine. The copyright in the story was renewed by Stone in 1989 (see source: David Pierce (2007), Note #20, pg. 141).
- Pierce, David (2007), pg.137
- Researching the Copyright Status of a Work from Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site
- The film has no entry in the United States Copyright Office database. For any work published after 1977, a lack of registration in this database confirms public domain status. See Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, Cornell University.
- Pierce, David (2007), pp.138-39
- Pierce, David (2007), pp.134-37
- Fishman, Stephen (2010), pp.174-180
- Pierce, David (2007), p.126
- Cox, Stephen. It's a Wonderful Life: A Memory Book. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2003. 115. Print. ISBN 1-58182-337-1. Copyright of short story, The Greatest Gift, expires after 2038, 95 years after publication.
- "Renewal Registrations, p. 1614." Catalog of Copyright Entries, January–June 1971, U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved: November 8, 2010.
- Nesi, Ted. "Why You Can't Watch It's A Wonderful Life on Demand". WPRI.com. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site
- Online results from keyword search: "Last Time I Saw Paris Conrad Salinger" in United States Copyright Office. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
- Pierce, David (2007), pg.138
- Pierce, David (2007), p.128
- "Court Rules for 'Goodtimes' in McLintock! Case", in Billboard, May 14, 1994,pg. 73 & 82
- Fishman, Stephen (2010), pp.337
- Night of the Living Dead entered the public domain because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. In 1968, United States copyright law required a proper notice for a work to maintain a copyright. See U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 92, Copyright Law of the United States of America, Chapter 4: Copyright Notice, Deposit, and Registration, Omission of notice on certain copies and phonorecords. Image Ten displayed such a notice on the title frames of the film beneath the original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters but the distributor removed the statement when it changed the title. See Boluk, Stephanie; Lenz, Wylie (June 16, 2011 ). "Introduction: Generation Z, the Age of Apocalypse". In Boluk, Stephanie; Lenz, Wylie. Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Jefferson, North Carolina, US: McFarland & Company. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-7864-6140-0. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
- Fishman, Stephen (2010), The Public Domain: How to Find & Use Copyright-Free Writings, Music, Art & More (5th ed.), Nolo (retrieved via Google Books), ISBN 1-4133-1205-5, retrieved 2010-10-31
- Pierce, David (March 29, 2001). "Legal Limbo: How American Copyright Law Makes Orphan Films" (mp3 in "file3"). Orphans of the Storm II: Documenting the 20th Century. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. OCLC 15122313. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Copyright at United States Copyright Office
- Foreign films and copyright, tutorial for determining foreign film public domain status in the United States.
- Public domain films at Internet Archive. Note: films in this archive may not be in the public domain.
- Public domain films, a list by Peter Rodgers Organization. Note: films in this list may not be in the public domain.