Max Fleischer question

Are the Max Fleischer Superman cartoon in the public domain? Yesterday I went into a Target and they had a bunch of DVD’s for $1 each. The one that caught my eye had a cover that says “10 Cartoon Starring Superman”. The back cover lists classic titles like “Terror on the Midway”, “The Mechanical Monsters”, and “Billion Dollar Limited”. No mention of Max anywhere on the box even though it is pretty obvious it is his stuff.

I did buy the DVD and it does indeed have the classic Fleischer episodes. The company that made the disc is called PC Treasures, Inc. The bottom of the box has copyright mark and says

The bottom of the back of the box mentions “Full registered and re-mastered”.

Is this bad? Are the shorts in the public domain?

Every source I’ve found tells condratictorally that the rights are now owned by Warner Brothers but that they are in the public domain. I have a few queries out about this … I’ll get back to you as soon as I hear something.

Thanks, Eutychus.

I heard back from animation historian Jerry Beck who says "Paramount simply didn’t renew their copyright to the films. Before 1980 films
had to be renewed after 28 years from their initial copyright date. Those
that failed to be renewed fell into public domain.

DC Comics didn’t do it because they didn’t own the films, Paramount did.
Paramount was out of the cartoon business and had no monetary interest in renewing
the copyrights on them. DC ended up with the master negatives and film
elements, and as they are owned by Warner Bros., WB has taken over the ownership of
the master materials. DC still has the trademark on the SUPERMAN character and

Also from :

"The rights to the Fleischer/Famous Studios cartoon library are complicated. With the exception of the Superman and Popeye cartoons, Paramount’s cartoon library was originally sold to a company called U M & M Corp. …

The 1950-1962 cartoons were sold to Harvey Comics in 1962 (today they are owned by Classic Media). The copyright for the Fleischers’ cartoons was not renewed by Famous or Paramount, and as a result the majority of the Fleischers’ cartoons entered the public domain. This included the Color Classics series, the Superman series, and the two full-length feature films."

Damn. Somebody sure missed out. However, I am glad that my $1 DVD is okay for me to watch with a clear conscience.

Once something is in the public domain is that permanent? Could somebody re-new the copyright?

Once something is in the public domain, it is no longer protected under copyright and the copyright can never be renewed. However, if they so chose, the original copyright holder could restore the film (but then again, so could an amateur). There are a bunch of cartoons in the public domain- not only the Supermans, but some Popeyes, a whole bunch of Looney Tunes (including some of the politically incorrect ones), a small amount of Disney cartoons (mostly WWII stuff), and some silent and black-and-white films from obscure studios such as Van Beuren. There are a ton of DVD compilations of public domain cartoons, usually with cheap-looking cover art.

Well, some of them appear to be PD. isn’t a completely reliable source, but they do take things down if it can be proven someone owns the rights to it.

I know Max Fleisher’s son, Mark Fleisher - high powered entertainment attorney.

Not that we are good buddies or anything, but we have spoken a few times. I once heard him talk about his family’s rights to his father’s work and I believe the upswing was that they got paid a nice piece of change way back when, but that the new owners foolishly let a lot of the rights lapse and they would soon fall into public domain. This conversation was about 10 years ago.

I do recall him saying the family was trying to regain some of the rights, but it didn’t sound like it was something he personally was actively pursuing.

He had some cool Betty Boop things in his office.

Ooops. Meant Max Fleisher’s GRANDSON, Mark. And I just found this blurb about him:

“Mr. Fleischer currently serves as President of Fleischer Studios, where he is responsible for managing family-owned rights assets, including Betty Boop, the character created by Mr. Fleischer’s grandfather, animation pioneer Max Fleischer.”

1977, actually.

Almost always true, and true in this context, but there are a few foreign works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. which Congress re-protected as part of its implementation of the Berne Convention on copyright.


The most notable work that was PD in the US and was subsequently made copyrighted (by adding material) was, of course, Lord of the Rings.

And the most notable U.S. public domain work that became successful because of the fact it was in the public domain is It’s A Wonderful Life.

No, that was Lord of the Rings, too.