Why Night of the Living Dead is Public Domain

This is one copyright that won't rise from the dead...

Night of the Living Dead PosterAs we get closer to Halloween, it’s a great time to revisit some of our spooky copyright stories from the past


Today, I decided to revisit one of my favorite copyright stories and also one of my favorite films, Night of the Living Dead.

As I reported back in 2011, Night of the Living Dead, despite having been released in just 1968, is a public domain film. The reason is complicated and deal with the laws that were in effect when the film was released.

Suffice to say though that, due to an unfortunate and avoidable error, the original film was distributed without a copyright notice. As such, the film was not given copyright protection and was placed into the public domain from day one.

However, this ended up being a boon for the modern zombie genre. Causing the word “zombie” to take on an all new meaning as other filmmakers were free to adapt and build on the work.

It even worked out fairly well for the film’s creators, who ended up creating their own (separate) zombie film series that were both successful in their own rights.

In this video, we take a look at Night of the Living Dead, how it fell out of copyright and the impact that mistake had both on the film and the zombie genre as a whole.

It’s certainly one of the most important influences copyright has had on Halloween and horror and a reminder of just how important copyright is to our culture.


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  1. Didn’t the Copyright Act of 1976 have a retroactive effect for movies like Night of the Living Dead? After all, there was a clear intent for copyright and to make money off of it. It’s not like comments one makes on Facebook. There’s no economic interest in that. I don’t claim any copyright whatsoever on anything I put on Facebook because there’s no money to be made in political commentary or other rants and raves.

    • It doesn’t matter if you “claim” a copyright or not. Every Berne Convention county gives you a copyright on (virtually) anything you create. If someone copies your Facebook comment and sells T-shirts, you can sue them for all the profits.

      If someone copied your Facebook comment, and posts it elsewhere on Facebook…. technically you can still sue them for infringement. In court the burden is on them to claim&prove that their usage falls within Fair Use.

      Your comment doesn’t need to have any financial value. Under U.S. law you can claim actual financial damages on infringement, or you can ask for statutory damages instead. Statutory damages means you get between $500 and $150,000. If someone can prove the infringement was an accident, or that they had good reason to believe it was not infringement, that is called “innocent infringer” and the courts can lower the damages to $200. Those damages are per-work. If someone copies 500 of your comments, or 500 of your pictures, multiply those damages by 500.

      • No I can’t, and even if the law did allow it, it would be a waste of time and just make me look like a bullying, petty a$$h0le. Now if I wrote an actual story or novel, then I would not be wasting time trying to enforce it. The so called “Berne Convention” applies to professionals, not everyday folks like me. And BTW, I declare that there is absolutely no “copyright” on this response because to do so is just pointless.

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