My understanding is that determining copyright is not always as simple as adding a number of years to the date a movie was first released/a series was first aired.

What resources are there to determine if a movie/series is still under copyright or not?

I have classic movies including silent movies in mind, hence the tag. I couldn't find any other applicable tags. Perhaps 'legal-status' which could in future include banned movies and other interesting tidbits?

  • This completely depends on the country I believe. I am conflicted as legal status could be interesting but is also likely to be deemed 'too localized'
    – iandotkelly
    Jan 1, 2013 at 11:54
  • In the U.S., nothing made before 1923 is under copyright. Jan 3, 2013 at 0:47
  • I guess, in most American films or series, the copyright claim may be at the end of the movie ie credits Jul 20, 2020 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


It depends on the country and the individual factors can be complicated. But the easiest way is to check if it already appears on a list of public domain films.

For example, Wikipedia's "List of films in the public domain in the United States" has plenty of information about determining public domain status, including:

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.

The Internet Archive has feature films for download and streaming, and have a FAQ to help determine whether a film is in the public domain.

  • 2
    Yep - all of Hugo's links will help you figure this out. The public domain issue is a cloudy one, however, and it is worth noting that George Lucas had this in mind when he sold to Disney - due to Disney's previous lobbying in congress to extend the copyright of their properties ad infinitum, this means Stars Wars will not be entering the public domain any time after Lucas' death. At least not for the foreseeable future.
    – Nobby
    Jan 1, 2013 at 14:58

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