9 Spooky Copyright Stories for Halloween

Every year at Halloween, I run a neighborhood haunted house. Often times, as with last year, I take some time at the end of the month to wrap things up and get ready.

Luckily, this year, between a relatively quiet time at my consulting job and being well-prepared on the haunt, I was able to keep posting right up to today.

However, that doesn’t mean I want to leave without making at least one spooky post this Halloween. Fortunately, there is a lot of rich history to examine when one studies how copyright has shaped Halloween.

With that in mind, here are nine copyright-related stories that are perfect for the Halloween season. 

How Copyright Shaped Horror

Nothing is more connected with Halloween than horror, in particular horror movies. However, if you’ve enjoyed tales of vampires, zombies or Frankenstein’s Monster, you’ve had your media shaped very directly by copyright.

Here are three examples:

  1. How a Copyright Mistake Created the Modern Zombie: Night of the Living Dead is widely credited for being the seminal modern zombie movie. However, a copyright mistake landed it, and its lore, in the public domain. Here’s what happened and how it changed the genre. 
  2. How Universal Re-Copyrighted Frankenstein’s Monster: At the other end of the spectrum, you have Frankenstein’s Monster. Though Mary Shelly’s original book lapsed into the public domain over a century ago, the iconic version most people connect with the monster is very much owned and protected by Universal Pictures, at least for a few more years.
  3. Dracula vs. Nosferatu: A True Copyright Horror Story: Finally, much of modern vampire lore came not from Dracula, but a failed attempt to not be sued by the estate of Bram Stoker. Here we look at the tale of Nosferatu and how its contributions to vampire lore were nearly lost forever.

All in all, no matter what kind of horror you enjoy, it’s safe to assume that copyright has altered the course of the genre dramatically, including having strong impacts on films being made today.

Copyright and Haunted Houses

Equally synonymous with Halloween are haunted houses. Obviously, that is a subject I’m passionate about. Not only do I help operate a neighborhood haunted house, my girlfriend and I also co-host the weekly podcast Haunt Weekly.

However, haunted houses also have copyright and other IP issues to consider. 

Here’s just three examples: 

  1. HAuNTcon 2016 – Copyright and Trademark for Haunters: In 2016 I was invited to speak at HAuNTcon, a national convention for haunted attraction owners and operators. In this presentation, we look at the variety of copyright and trademark issues haunts need to think about to stay open.
  2. Copyright Conversations from HAuNTcon: The 2016 talk was preceded by a visit to the 2015 HAuNTcon, where I answered questions from various haunters who wondered about music, characters, software and other IP issues related to haunting.
  3. 5 Copyright Issues for Halloween: Finally, back in 2010, I shared an article about the copyright issues we faced as home haunters, and some of the ways that we worked to eliminate or reduce the issues. Along the way, we talk about how working around copyright issues helped make our haunt more unique.

In short, if you’re either going to or have already been to a haunted house this year, it is likely the owners have had at least a few copyright issues to address.

Spooky Copyright Weirdness

On the whole, most Halloween-related works are fairly mundane when it comes to copyright. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example, may be one of the most bizarre theatrical releases of all time, its copyright history is surprisingly mundane.

However, there are a few examples of spooky creations with bizarre histories.

  1. Copyright and Metropolis: Metropolis, as a film, has been lost, rediscovered, placed into the public domain and then pulled out of it. This article tells the history of the film that has had perhaps the most unusual copyright history ever.
  2. Brains! A Story of Missed Attribution and Missed Opportunity: In October 2002, musician Aurelio Voltaire was set to get what could have been a major break, having one of his songs played on a popular Cartoon Network show. However, when the episode aired, no attribution was given, even though it had been customary up to that point. Sadly, due to his agreement, he had no recourse that he could take.
  3. Copyright and the Twilight Zone: From earlier this month, this article looks at two episodes of The Twilight Zone that had a less than normal copyright history. One episode was considered lost for decades following a copyright infringement lawsuit and another, which wasn’t original to the show, actually made its debut on Alfred Hitchcock Presents years earlier.  

In short, there’s no doubt that Halloween has seen its fair share of copyright weirdness.

Bottom Line

In the end, Halloween is like any other element of popular culture. It has been shaped and steered by copyright, both directly and indirectly, over the decades. Realistically, you could write a similar collection of stories for any other holiday.

That said, there’s a reason why Halloween is a special holiday. It’s a holiday that celebrates the fun of being scared. It’s a slightly macabre holiday with a bit of naughtiness baked into it. It stands out from the other holidays on the calendar.

That, in turn, helps its copyright and IP stories stand out as well.

So have a great, happy and safe Halloween. I’ll see all of you Thursday after I take a day to recover!

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