Using public domain properties for your private label brand on Amazon
Dracula, the Wizard of Oz, Sherlock Holmes. All of these characters could be the face of your next Amazon FBA product, as they are all in public domain.
What is public domain?
A public domain property is a work that is not subject to copyright, belonging or available to the public as a whole. Often, these are works that are 95 years old or older.
The four most common ways for a work to enter the public domain are as follows:
Expired copyright. After 95 years, a copyright automatically expires. This is the case with L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books, originally copyrighted in the early 1900’s.
Failure to copyright correctly. Sometimes, mistakes can lead to properties entering the public domain. The most popular example of this is the film “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). The film’s original theatrical distributor neglected to place a copyright indication on the prints. This is the reason why the basic concepts behind the film (eg. the modern zombie) is so popular in media like “The Walking Dead” and “Zombieland”.
Dedications. When a copyright owner deliberately places a work in the public domain, this is called a dedication. The Creative Commons website contains modern works created by artists to serve as publicly available content.
Copyright law does not protect the work. Certain properties (such as ideas, concepts, and systems) aren’t covered by copyright law. Board-game mechanics often fall into this category. That’s why anybody can make a Monopoly-style game, as long as they don’t use the actual name and art from the Hasbro original.
What does this mean for Amazon FBA sellers?
This is important for Amazon FBA sellers because they can create their own items using these properties without having to pay licensing fees or deal with royalties.
If you were to create your own product involving content such as a book or t-shirt design, you could spend hours, weeks, even months developing it. Alternatively, if you paid someone to create the designs or content for you, it could still take a lot of time AND cost a lot of money!
By using public domain content, you can use what already exists without having to overthink it. Imagine having your own items featuring the characters from the Wizard of Oz or books of HP Lovecraft — the author of “Call of Cthulhu”.
What movies are in the public domain?
Here is a short (but by no means complete) list of films that are in the public domain. Many of these films can be found on Public Domain Movies.
1 – “Night of the Living Dead”
Released in 1968, “Night of the Living Dead” had the misfortune of not having its trademark submitted properly. Good thing, too, since we never would have had “The Walking Dead” or “Zombieland” had that been the case.
2 – “White Zombie”
The 1932 Bela Lugosi flick about witch doctors doing evil things entered the public domain almost immediately after its release. Like the aforementioned “Night of the Living Dead”, “White Zombie” suffered from trademarking mishaps.
3 – “Plan 9 From Outer Space”
Often considered the worst film ever made, Ed Wood’s cheeseball classic is about an alien invasion. Originally, the film wasn’t copyrighted during its release in 1958. It saw a few trademark renewals but then, in 1981, its trademark wasn’t renewed, thus entering it into the public domain.
Additional public domain films:
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
“The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960)
“The Phantom of the Opera” (1925)
“Carnival of Souls” (1962)
“Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964)
“His Girl Friday” (1940)
“The Lost World” (1925)
“House on Haunted Hill” (1959)
What books are in the public domain?
Here is a short (but by no means complete) list of books that are in the public domain.
1 – Sherlock Holmes
Ever wonder why there’s so many Sherlock Holmes TV shows, games, and movies? It’s because almost 100% of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels about the eccentric detective are in the public domain.
2 – Dracula
Another famous character from literature that you’re sure to see over and over again, Dracula (first published in 1897), entered public domain in 1962.
3 – HP Lovecraft
The influence of HP Lovecraft has been felt throughout all of modern horror. Films like John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, “Ghostbusters”, and “Alien” all draw direct inspiration from his works. Furthermore, you may have heard of Lovecraft’s most famous creation, a tentacle-faced beastie named Cthulhu.
4 – The Wizard of Oz
Twenty-four of L. Frank Baum’s original Wizard of Oz books are part of the public domain, having timed-out 95 years after their first release.
However, the popular 1939 film has yet to enter the public domain, as MGM continues to renew its trademark.
Additional public domain books:
“Tarzan and the Golden Lion” by Edgar Rice Burroughs
“The Time Machine” by HG Wells
“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
“The Odyssey” by Homer
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas
“The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stephenson
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville
What images are in the public domain?
In addition to films and books, there are plenty of famous works of art, photographs, and even logos that are in the public domain as well.
Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out
Many vintage posters from the 1920s and earlier
Felix the Cat
“American Gothic” by Grant Wood
“V-J, 1945, Times Square” by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet
The smiling black ape photo
Images of people dead for 70 years or more (see the Einstein example above)
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