I am not an attorney and any comments I post are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a legal expert who is familiar with the area of legal expertise you need.
In my earlier post – 1924 U. S. Works Now in Public Domain Effective January 1, 2020, I noted a few articles that did a good job of covering some of the items that are now in the public domain as of January 1, 2020. I am re-blogging a post tomorrow that raises a point about Disney.
For me, a friend made a point about Disney. My friend is NOT an attorney. He used to work at a Disney mall store and is a huge Disney fan. He pointed out that the latest Disney movies often include a clip of Steamboat Willie at the start. He thinks this could be an attempt by Disney to do what others have tried and failed, specifically claiming some sort of trademark defense to extend copyright. This is just his opinion, but in a few years (2024) we will find out if this plays out that way. The Supreme Court of the U. S. (SCOTUS) has made it clear trademark doesn’t extend copyright in past rulings – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dastar_Corp._v._Twentieth_Century_Fox_Film_Corp., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._%26_C._Merriam_Co._v._Syndicate_Pub._Co., and probably others that I missed.
A good example is Sherlock Holmes. While most of the Sherlock Holmes works are in the public domain, several are not. However, the point made by SCOTUS is only the new items in the works still under copyright protection that weren’t in the earlier books. For the public domain books, as long as one only references what are in those earlier books, there is no danger of copyright issues. On a side note, anything in any Sherlock Holmes movies that weren’t in the public domain books would be covered by the movie’s copyright if the movie is not in the public domain. It was interesting that one movie that came in the public domain this year was the Sherlock Jr. movie made in 1924.
Here’s a good article on Sherlock Holmes – https://screenrant.com/sherlock-holmes-movie-tv-rights-owner-public-domain/.