Adventures in the public domain

SmoothFew muses on the problem with machinima

“My advice for any hobbyists out there that like to dabble in machinima or other forms of derivative content (fan fiction, stories based on popular games or movies, comic strips that do the same, etc) is that if you want to do this stuff for a living, don’t spend all your time on something you don’t own. […] You don’t want to spend years of your life working on something only to be told that it doesn’t really belong to you”.

If you’re a hobbyist knowingly using machinima to learn transferable skills that can later be made to pay elsewhere (Flash animation, pre-vis, event design, theatre staging, games, even er… those “movie” things) then I don’t see the problem. I can see the attraction of setting a major video project in and around a recognisable brand like that of a popular videogame. All your buddies know exactly what it is and thus why you might want to bury yourself in your bedroom for months to make it. But there are recognisable “character brands” that are now in the public domain, and free for use by anyone…

Allan Quatermain
Alice & Co. from Wonderland
Anne of Green Gables
Baba Yaga and other Russian fairy-tales
Captain Nemo
Dickens characters (Scrooge, Oliver Twist etc)
Big Bad Wolf / Little Red Riding Hood
Brer Rabbit
Buster Keaton (likeness of the comedian)
Cthulhu mythos and associated settings (H.P. Lovecraft)
Conan (in some Robert E. Howard stories)
Count of Monte Cristo
Dick Turpin (highwayman)
Dr. Faustus
Doc Savage
Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Doctor Dolittle
Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
All fairy tale characters (e.g. Jack and the Beanstalk)
Father Christmas
Frankenstein’s monster
Flash Gordon
Fu Manchu (in USA only)
All figures and monsters from Ancient Greek / Norse / Germanic / Arthurian myth
Hansel and Gretel
Historical figures such as Joan of Arc, Houdini, Billy the Kid, Davy Crockett
Huckleberry Finn and co.
Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Invisible Man and other H.G. Wells characters
Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse)
Jungle Book characters
Keystone Kops
King Kong
Kim (Kipling)
Krazy Kat
Little Nemo (Winsor McCay)
Marquis de Sade characters (Justine, etc)
Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s brother)
Paul Bunyan
Peter Pan & co.
Peter Rabbit
Phineas Fogg (Jules Verne steampunk adventurer)
Philip Marlowe / Sam Spade
Phantom of the Opera
Popeye the Sailor
Puss in Boots
Robin Hood
Robinson Crusoe
The Shadow
All Shakespeare characters (Prospero, Falstaff, Hamlet, etc)
Scarlet Pimpernel
Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, and Professor Moriarty
Tarzan and Co.
Three Musketeers
The Tortoise and the Hare
Uncle Sam
Werewolves, dragons, unicorns, Egyptian mummies of all types, etc.
White Fang (dog)
Wind in the Willows characters
Wizard Of Oz characters (first 16 books only)

I can think of some potential combinations already. And if you can’t use them “as is”, then take a tip from Hollywood and reboot them… how about a werewolf-hunting team consisting of The Big Bad Wolf (now tamed by Little Red and with a 15-foot high superhero build), Little Red Riding Hood (in Japanese lolita mode) and her comedy sidekick Brer Rabbit, with Puss in Boots as the brains of the outfit?

Of course, with iClone’s CloneBone rig, almost any character can be easily created and animated…

5 thoughts on “Adventures in the public domain

  1. Argh – too much time on Facebook. I want a LIKE button!

    That’s a great list. But… Peter Pan is NOT in the public domain. It’s one of the anomalies in the copyright system. The copyright was bequeathed to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London, and by Act of Parliament, it does not expire.

    I’m pretty sure a couple of the others are still in copyright, at least in some countries. I’d suggest checking before using Beatrix Potter or Jeeves. And as regards Pocahontas & Jungle Book characters, make sure you’re clearly not using the Disney versions.

  2. The Peter Pan rights are tangled in the UK. See: The Little White Bird (first appearance of Peter) is apparently public domain and royalty-free.

    Some Jeeves books are in the public domain in the U.S. (e.g.: Right Ho, Jeeves).

    You’re of course right to point out the dangers of using strongly visual characters (Disney, Beatrix Potter etc) in a way that’s too close to an original interpretation.

  3. The issue with Jeeves highlights the problem with national copyrights in a global environment. You could probably make a legitimate machinima with Jeeves in the US, but you wouldn’t necessarily have the rights to that character in the UK. However, you can’t control where your video is shown if you upload it to, say, YouTube.

    Copyright law is, quite simply, a mess that benefits only copyright lawyers.

  4. Bravo. A unique post, and much-needed. I hope mycinema makers take it to heart. As you know, I already have!

    Let’s add Hans Christian Andersen. I think his Emperor’s Nightingale is one of the finest stories ever told. I suspect that another great story, The Velveteen Rabbit, is a rip-off/tribute, take your pick. And then there’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, a tale for our times if ever there was one. Also add the Bible–the story of Job, to be specific.

    Might want to follow this up with a reminder not to steal music. So unnecessary. There are so many sources of production music–my fave is shockwave-sound. Or put a local musician to work. They need the income.

  5. Ah yes, I’d forgotten Hans Christian Andersen. “Little Mermaid”, etc.

    Music-wise, I now have an “Audio” section in the sidebar. SmartSound make software that plugs excellent royalty-free music into your editing suites.

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