The 1968 American independent horror film, Night of the Living Dead, is (apparently) in the public domain… but the stories of how it got that way range from the age of the film to how he neglected to renew the copyright to "it's not really in the public domain".

The "age" argument doesn't seem to hold water; I can't (for example) broadcast Disney's Snow White (a much older film), nor was Walt Disney Pictures able to adapt the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Wizard of Oz unencumbered.

So what's the status/story of the trademark and copyright of the "Living Dead" movies?

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    This seems to be explained on its Wikipedia page, though, with references, and also on its IMDb FAQ page. Do you disagree with the information they supplied?
    – Walt
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 20:43
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    @Walt I don't think that it's necessary to look on Wikipedia first to ask a question here. Besides, this answer may reveal some sources that can be added to that page. Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 23:31
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    Disney is the single largest factor in determining copyright duration. Every time Mickey is about to expire into the public domain, the duration is extended. Notice too that the laws are different for "copyright" "trademark" and "registered trademark" as well. Some refer to print, some refer to film, and others refer to "brand".
    – Tim S.
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


None of what you said. It became public domain the second it was distributed/screened to the public due to the US copyright law at the time. You were required to include a copyright symbol on the work to copyright it, per the 1909 Copyright Act and Townsend amendment. No symbol, no copyright, instant public domain. From the mouth of the lich king himself:

"We lost the copyright on the film because we put it on the title," Romero explained in "Night of the Living Steelers," an installment of NFL Films' Timeline series that premiered in October. "Our title was Night of the Flesh Eaters; they changed it to Night of the Living Dead.

"When they changed the title, the copyright bug came off, so it went into public domain [and] we no longer had a piece of the action. Everybody had a copy of Night of the Living Dead because they were able to sell it without having to worry about royalties going to us."


He got screwed by the distributor company, maybe probably accidentally. The distributor made bank, and Romero didn't on it.

None of this affected the other living dead or dead movies.

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