Plan 9 From Outer Space now in public domain

Considered by many to be the worst movie ever made, the Ed Wood classic has now passed into the public domain. has it (they’ve been Slashdotted, so give it a day or so).

Having a party that’s gone on too long? Put this in the DVD player and everyone will run screaming from your house.

Public doman, eh? What exactly does that mean? We can…mock it now?

Public domain means that it is no longer protected by copyright and can be distributed freely.

Its copyright can’t possibly have expired naturally yet. So, the copyright holder (the sudio? Wood’s estate?) released it into the public domain? Why? Surely there’s still money to be made on such a famously bad movie.

Does this mean it will become the “It’s A Wonderful Life” of the Halloween season?

Ain’t that funny; I just rented it 3 days ago.

I thought it was hilarious. And now my 8 and 6 year old sons run around quoting it.

“Colonel Tom Edwards in charge of saucer field activities was to make the greatest decision of his career. He made that decision! Colonel Edwards gave the signal to fire!”

Tor coming out of the grave.

The Bela Legosi imposter running around with his arm in front of his face.

My thoughts exactly. Wood had always had fans and this film was a cult classic.

Then, after Tim Burton made the movie Ed Wood there was renewed interest in Wood’s films- and I mean renewed interest big time. The films even became popular enough to warrant a pink taffeta enrobed DVD Boxed Set.

There’s definitely plenty of money left to be made. I wonder if any Dopers can dig up some inside information the explain/verify the circumstances surrounding the film’s release to public domain.

Plan 9 is not PD. According to the U.S. Copyright Office database, the copyright is live and is owned by Reynolds Pictures.

Which makes sense. The film was released in 1958. Under the law of the time, the copyright was good for 28 years, so it was still valid when the law was amended to increase the term to 75 years (since it was a work for hire). It wasn’t actually registered until April 1981, IIRC but there was an amendment to the law that allowed creators of works from before the law change to reregister their copyright.

In any case, the film is listed by the Copyright Office as being under copyright. Since that’s the ultimate arbiter, case closed.

I found that info, too. I tried Googling for “Reynolds Pictures”, but came up with nothing. What if they’re out of business? What happens to the copyright? is a highly respected site. I seriously doubt they would offer the movie if it wasn’t PD.

Night of the Living Dead is public domain.

At least you can download it in the public domain movies at Prelingers.

The plot thickens… Cinema Insomnia also lists the movie as being Public Domain. Still, RealityChuck is right; copyright doesn’t expire until 75 years after the author’s (or last-surviving author’s) death.

But why would so many sites list erroneous information? Unfortunately, the Copyright Office search engine is closed Saturday night (believe it or not). Will check more tomorrow…

Angora. Ed was very fond of angora.

It is in the public domain…by default. I once read that it fell to a crazy loophole in U.S. copyright law (later fixed) that if you forgot to put a copyright notice on something, it wasn’t copyrighted.

That is correct about NotLD. An NPR report a few weeks ago mentioned that the lack of a copyright was why it became a cult hit since it didn’t cost the theater owners anything.

I have a VHS copy of Plan 9 and it makes a great double feature with Ed Wood. The Lady Lion offered to buy me the box set but I declined even though I would like to see Bride of the Atom and Glen or Glenda.

Yep. It used to be that a copyright notice was required by law. Current law eliminates that. Thus even though I have no copyright notices on my websites, legally all original content I hold the copyright on. At least in the US.

Here is the info for Plan 9 from

  1. Registration Number: PA-102-338
    Title: Plan 9 from outer space / written, produced, directed by Edward D. Wood , Jr.
    Imprint: [s.l. : A D. C. A. release, 1959]
    Description: 1 videocassette (V H S) (79 min.) : sd., b & w ; 1/2 in.
    Note: Title on housing: Plan nine from outer space. Filmed under the title Grave robbers from outer space. Narrated by Criswell. Deposit includes screenplay (1 v.)CAST: Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Lyle Talbot et al.CRED: Director of photography: William C. Thompson; music: Gordon Zahler; film editor: Edward D. Wood, Jr.
    Claimant: acReynolds Pictures, Inc.
    Created: 1958

Published: 1May58

Registered: 23Apr81

Author on © Application: Reynolds Pictures, Inc., employer for hire.
Miscellaneous: C.O. corres.
Special Codes: 4/X/L

If Reynolds Pictures is out of business, they copyright is still in force. Most likely, they transferred the copyright to another company, or even to an individual. It’s clear that someone had the rights to make the videocassettes.

And while does try, there are things in the archive that are not public domain. For instance, they have a large amount of Grateful Dead concerts available. And while the Dead have approved this, they can only grant it for songs they control. Quite a few of the songs in the list are by other composers (e.g., The Beatles, Traffic, etc.), who still have the right to control their music and for which fees technically have to be paid.

The copyright for a published work could be registered anytime in its first 28 years of publication, so the owner(s) of the copyright to Plan 9 From Outer Space could register it anytime in its first term of copyright. Plan 9 was registered in 1981. However, that copyright term ended in 1986 (1958 + 28).

The person who renewed the copyright in 1986 was film distributor Wade Williams, who specializes in cult and sci-fi movies. However, as far as I and many other people know, Williams had no legal claim to do so. The U.S. Copyright Office does not normally investigate these matters; it files the paperwork submitted. If Williams would ever file a lawsuit against someone for copyright violation of Plan 9, the defendant could demand proof that Williams was the legal heir to the copyright.

I understand that Willaims got Ed Wood’s widow to sign his papers. Two problems with this: Ed Wood’s wife never owned the copyright either; and she and Ed Wood were never legally married.

Sorry, but the Copyright act 0f 1976 stated that any copyright in force at the time of the new law went into effect would automatically be governed under the terms of the newer law. Thus the current act still governs: 75 years from creation (since it’s a work for hire).

The current law also grants copyright protection even without registration. So the work is definitely under copyright no matter what Reynolds Pictures legal status is.

The renewal term is 67 years, for a total of 95 years from publication.