With the upcoming re-release of The Phantom Menace in 3D Lucas has again gone and changed his movies.

Is there such a thing as ‘public domain’ for movies?

If so when will Star Wars reach that point, and will the original un-changed version then be available so that we can all go back to the way some people think it should be?

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    Congress just made it possible for them to re-protect even public domain works. Thus, even if public works movies exist, don't expect to see Star Wars as a public work in this century.
    – Xantec
    Feb 6, 2012 at 19:07
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    I edited to remove randing and personal opinions. If you disagree with the edits, please feel free to roll back. Feb 6, 2012 at 19:21
  • 3
    Off topic though. Copyright law and public domain status would be better for maybe Writers or Literature. Or still some legal based SE Feb 6, 2012 at 20:25
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    @EightDaysofMalaise: The phrase "wrong to be so in the first place" is, to say the least, controversial -- but I don't think this is the place to debate it. Feb 6, 2012 at 21:28
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    See meta to talk about if this question should be on topic, meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/q/1492/98 Feb 8, 2012 at 4:06

2 Answers 2


As per http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm:

  Published      Copyright term               Ergo, public in     Episodes
  1964-1977      95 years after pub date      1977 + 95 = 2072    IV
  1978-3/1/1989  70 years after author dies   ???? + 70 = >2082+  V, VI

  1978-3/1/1989  95 years from publication    1980 + 95 = 2075    V, VI
  if corporate   or 120 years from creation,  
  authorship     whichever expires first

Therefore, Episode IV will be 2072.

I am not sure if Episodes V, VI are "corporate authorship", if so, they would expire into public domain either in 2075 or 2078 (if "authored" by LucasFilm), or 70 years after Lucas dies, which means 100% sure after 2082.

The rest of the years after 1989 fall under the same rules as the corporate authorship for pre-1989, therefore Episodes 1-3 will expire 2094, 2099 and 2102.

Please be aware that I'm using year of release as "publication", therefore that may be off by a year or two if the precise definition of publication for movies for the copyright purposes is different.

As a side note, copyright laws have been changed before, with retroactive effects, specifically with the goal of lengthening the expiration period for works about to expire (I'm looking at you, Disney).

So it's QUITE possible they will be changed again before 2075 to make these dates much further into the future.

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    Don't count on it. Every time Mickey Mouse has been at risk, some congresscritters suddenly found a public spirited desire to extend the reach of copyright. Such desires of course had nothing at all to do with the money that Disney was throwing around. Feb 6, 2012 at 19:22
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    @dmckee - I'm guessing you added the comment BEFORE my edit :))). And no, nothing at all with the money! Senators X (D-Disney) and Y (R-LucasFilm) totally reject your dirty insinuations! Feb 6, 2012 at 19:24
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    What about countries other than the US? Also, trademark is different from copyright so terms like Star Wars and droid will be trademarked indefinitely. Feb 6, 2012 at 19:34
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    @BennyMcBenBen See the Berne Convention. For this question, the US law is the one that matters, as many territories will follow the US copyright law, at minimum. I imagine the for most people, waiting until 2072 means they'll never see Star Wars enter the public domain, assuming copyright isn't extended again.
    – user1027
    Feb 7, 2012 at 23:34
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    @TonyMeyer - Legolas! You are my father's wizard's nephew's long lost familiar robot dinosaur! (Vader takes out magical Nerf gun) Feb 8, 2012 at 12:09

It's very unlikely these works will ever be in the public domain for our lifetime.

For Episode IV, published in 1977, the original copyright lasts until 2072 at the very earliest. Similarly for the other movies, copyright lasts at least 95 years from the date of publication. This is the minimum term, and the history of copyright shows that it keeps getting extended retroactively for longer and longer terms.

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