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[[quoteright:350:[[{{Dracula}} http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/dracula_public_domain_character_9.png]]]]
[[caption-width-right:350:The Count has had many faces, some friendlier than others.[[note]]Clockwise from top left: ''Film/HorrorOfDracula'', ''ComicBook/TheTombOfDracula'', ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'', and ''WesternAnimation/HotelTransylvania''.[[/note]]]]
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->''"[[http://drmcninja.com/archives/comic/11p17 God bless the public domain.]]"''
-->-- ''Webcomic/TheAdventuresOfDrMcNinja'', on introducing '''Dracula'''

%%One quote is sufficient. Please place additional entries on the quotes tab.

A character that nobody owns anymore, or was never owned in the first place, that everybody wants to take a shot at writing.

Under U.S. law, works first published in 1923 or earlier are no longer subject to copyright. Before the 1970s, copyright was not automatic in the United States and most other countries, and it was possible for a copyright to lapse if not registered or renewed in a timely manner, so certain later works are public domain as well. In Europe, the rule is that the author has to have been dead for 70 years. Under the Berne Convention, work-for-hire has a copyright term of 100 years from the date of publication. Additionally, the holder of a copyright may choose to release it prematurely into the PublicDomain.

Most notably, the author only has to be dead for 50 years for their works to enter public domain in Canada - meaning that those of Creator/CSLewis and Creator/IanFleming (died in 1963 and 1964) are no longer under copyright.

Thanks to the trend of various changes in legislation, copyright terms can sometimes be cynically described as lasting at least X+20 years, where X is the number of years since the release of ''WesternAnimation/SteamboatWillie'', the first Mickey Mouse cartoon (this is not strictly correct as it was actually the ''third'' Mickey Mouse cartoon, but it was the first talkie and the first to be widely released). It is generally agreed that the most recent extension of American copyright duration -- the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_Bono_Copyright_Term_Extension_Act Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act]] -- was enacted at the behest of the Creator/{{Disney}} Company solely to keep Mickey Mouse cartoons from entering the public domain.

Given Congress' willingness to extend copyright duration any time Hollywood demands it, it is entirely possible that -- in America at least -- the pool of public domain characters has reached its maximum size and will grow no larger, except by accident or oversight. 2010 marked a year where no new additions were made to public domain in America from works with expiring copyrights, a statistic which will repeat for several more years unless the law changes appropriately ([[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Domain_Enhancement_Act and there is a law in progress trying to do just that]]). Worse yet, as of January 2012 it is now possible in the United States for [[http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/scotus-re-copyright-decision/ works to be taken back out of the public domain]], leading to the inevitable conclusion that the pool of public domain characters has not only reached its maximum size, it is likely to ''shrink''. (Ironically, the very same Hollywood corporations responsible for the original copyright durations would probably be the first to fight tooth and nail to ''keep'' certain properties in the public domain, if only so that they could continue making movies with some of the characters mentioned below.)

A distinction should be made between public domain ''characters'' and public domain ''works''; WesternAnimation/BugsBunny is a trademarked character and ''not'' in public domain, but his earliest individual cartoons are.

It should be mentioned as well the issue with derivative works, new works based on previous ones, such as adaptions. Although the ''original'' character or work may be in the public domain, a modern derivative work may not be. You can make your own derivative work of that public domain character, as long as it is clearly different from the version from the recent Hollywood blockbuster. Myth/NorseMythology, in and of itself, is in public domain, but if you try to make a blond Thor with a red cape and a hammer that OnlyTheChosenMayWield,[[note]]In the myths, it's simply a hammer so heavy that only Thor, the strongest god of all, is able to lift. Stan Lee changed that part because it would be meaningless in a world filled by superheroes and supervillains with super strength,[[/note]] you may be in trouble.

It should be noted that, in general, a UsefulNotes/{{trademark}} is forever. As long as the holder of the trademark is creating some kind of "product" (media counts), and that they fulfill certain requirements (protecting the trademark is generally required), they can demand that the courts enforce the trademark. This is another reason why trademarks have become more common.

One interesting side-note to keep in mind is that there is a difference between ''copyright'' (the legal right to control the reproduction of a particular expression of an idea or concept) and ''trademark'' (a symbol, character or design which is intended to be emblematic of a particular product or organization and used to identify them in a kind of visual shorthand). Public domain generally deals with copyright alone -- meaning that it might be possible for someone to legally write a story with a public domain character, only to find they cannot legally sell their story using that character's name, because someone else holds the trademark. This ''has'' happened.

In the USA, the Supreme Court decision [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dastar_v._Twentieth_Century_Fox Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox (2003)]] ruled that a public domain work doesn't violate the trademark of the underlying work. The specific ruling was a narrow one that dealt with "reverse passing off", rather than using a trademarked name. The ruling is generally believed to apply to using names as well, in which case it would indeed be legal to use a trademarked name on a public domain story, but no case that confirms this has reached the Supreme Court yet.

Of course, even if a character isn't in the Public Domain, a good writer can [[WritingAroundTrademarks probably find a way]] to get that character in by creating a CaptainErsatz or an AlternateCompanyEquivalent, or by utilizing a LawyerFriendlyCameo. And if that writer can't even use ''a character he created'' thanks to the wonders of modern copyright law, then he can use an {{Expy}}. Sometimes, they can just graft that character onto a HistoricalDomainCharacter (see below). Of course, sometimes all this can just go too far, when a certain popular character becomes known as a FountainOfExpies.

A character can also fall into the public domain if it doesn't meet threshold or originality -- which means characters that are too simple to be copyrighted. For example, a single grey square cannot be copyrighted, nor can a stick figure.

Compare HistoricalDomainCharacter, which are people from RealLife; and LiteraryMashUps, in which entire public domain works are [[strike:violated]] improved. Also be wary of examples in general found in the wild as, despite all pretenses, many people don't know much about copyright law in general and those that do, certainly don't know its many intricacies and legal interpretations. Further, copyright holders often give the impression that they have more extensive rights than they really do (for example, implying that an entire series is copyrighted, when some of it might be public domain). And indeed, for certain instances, people don't often realize the history of certain characters, resulting in RealityIsUnrealistic. See Santa Claus.

Keep in mind that producers may arrange for a license to use the name or likeness of a character even if it's likely to be in the public domain, or even if the use would not normally be considered infringement if it were not. A recent example is the agreement between Conan O'Brien's producers and the owner of the Franchise/ConanTheBarbarian literary estate allowing Conan to use his first name as the title of his talk show. TBS apparently thought it prudent to get the agreement even though it's unlikely the literary estate would be so foolhardy as to sue; the defense of even a frivolous lawsuit would run to many times the cost of such an agreement.

[[folder: Anime and Manga]]
* ''Manga/SgtFrog'': Grays type aliens, Flatwood monsters and eventually Chupacabras all appear through the series.

[[folder: Comic Books, Comic Strips]]
* Many [[UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfComicBooks Golden Age]] comic book characters wound up falling into public domain because their original publishers either went out of business or failed to renew the copyrights. Most Creator/FawcettComics and QualityComics characters fall into the latter category. With Quality Comics, Creator/DCComics acquired the characters while they were still under copyright, but they allowed the characters that they weren't using to enter the public domain. Fawcett Comics licensed its characters to DC until it went out of business in 1980s and DC bought them outright, but, once again, it didn't renew copyrights for anyone but [[ComicBook/{{Shazam}} Captain Marvel]] and his supporting cast. A number of public domain characters were subsequently reused by more recent publishers:
** In the 1980s, Eclipse Comics revived ComicBook/{{Airboy}}, a Hillman Comics character. The title's supporting cast and villains were often borrowed from ''Air Fighters Comics''/''Airboy Comics'', a title Airboy originally appeared in.
** Also in the 1980s, ACE Comics briefly revived Columbia Comic superheroes Skyman and the Face. The company also reprinted several Golden Age comics from various publishers. The company went bankrupt before their revival could get beyond the initial mini-series.
** In the early 1990s, Malibu Comics used Centaur Comics characters as the basis for "Protectors Universe," their first superhero line (not the be confused with Ultraverse, the superhero line that replaced it).
** In 1994, Roy Thomas used several public domain characters from several defunct comic companies in the ''Invaders'' mini-series, casting the characters as heroes who underwent a FaceHeelTurn. He originally intended to use obscure Creator/MarvelComics [[UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfComicBooks Golden Age]] characters, but he was overruled by his editor. One of those characters (Dr Nemesis) went on to play a supporting role in ''Uncanny X-Men.''
** In the early 2000s, Creator/AlanMoore revived Nedor Comics characters in the ''ComicBook/TomStrong'' series. They were later used in two ''Terra Obscura'' mini-series.
** Dynamite Entertainment has used about any public domain superhero they could get their hands on in the pages of ''ComicBook/ProjectSuperpowers''. This includes nearly all of the characters previously seen in ''Terra Obscura''.
** AC Comics made a habit of using public domain characters both in new series and reprints of original stories. Unlike the previous examples, which focused on a specific company, AC Comics used any character that was available, including minor Fawcett and Quality characters. Oddly, Dynamic Man used in ''The Twelve'' is ''not'' a public domain character -- he is owned by Marvel. However, he served as the basis for Harry "A" Chesler's version of Dynamic Man, which appeared in ''Project Superpowers''. The later version had many similarities to the former, but several minor details (such as their respective civilian identities) were different enough to make them distinct.
** At around the same time as ''Project Superpowers'', Creator/ImageComics started the Next Issue Project. Unlike most of the above-mentioned projects, which updated the characters for modern sensibilities, the Next Issue Project is more of a {{Retraux}} AffectionateParody, with [[UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfComicBooks Golden Age]]-style stories, issues the size of Golden Age comics rather than modern comics, and even vintage ads.
** During that same time, Erik Larsen introduced the Golden Age hero Daredevil and his supporting cast, a gang of young boys called The Little Wise Guys, as recurring cast members in ''Comicbook/TheSavageDragon''. His appearance was identical to the Daredevil who appeared in ''Project Superpowers'', but unlike his ''PS'' counterpart, who was mute, Daredevil could talk. The ''PS'' version also was known as "The Death-Defying 'Devil", presumably to avoid confusion with Marvel Comics' ''Comicbook/{{Daredevil}}''.
** Many of the Nedor characters (and quite a few characters from other publishers) are also being used in ''Heroes Inc'', a webcomic created by Scott Austin. The story takes place in an alternate reality where the allies of WWII lost the war. The Nedor character American Crusader is an aging hero collecting DNA from various heroes in an attempt to revive the Golden Age. Many changes have been made to the characters origin stories and appearance.
** Another odd use of several Nedor characters was in ''Adventures Into Darkness'', by Creator/KennethHite, a TabletopRPG supplement published in multiple versions with game details for different rule systems. The conceit of this work was that in a parallel universe, Creator/HPLovecraft lived a few years longer, landed a writing job with Nedor at one point, and merged several characters and ideas from his own work into the Nedor universe. So it's a CosmicHorror[=/=]Golden Age comics setting book with Lovecraftian and Nedorian elements. Oddly enough, it works.
** The original version of Blue Beetle (created for Fox Features Syndicate) is public domain, but subsequent Creator/CharltonComics (and, later DC Comics') revamps are not -- they all belong to DC Comics. Furthermore, DC Comics owns the Blue Beetle trademark, which is why AC Comics and Dynamite Entertainment changed their versions' name to avoid litigation.
** Centaur's John Aman, AKA Amazing-Man, was a member of the supporting cast of Marvel's ''ComicBook/ImmortalIronFist'' as [[spoiler: The Prince of Orphans]], which is fitting since, according to Roy Thomas, Iron Fist's co-creator, Iron Fist was based on the Amazing Man.
** Gene Luen Yang's and Sonny Liew's ''ComicBook/TheShadowHero'' is a {{Revival}} of the obscure Golden Age character the Green Turtle, who appeared in a few issues of ''Blazing Comics'' and may have been the first Asian-American superhero.
* The comic-book superheroine Octobriana may or may not have been created for anti-Soviet underground comics anonymously circulated in the USSR during the Cold War. Regardless of the truth of her origins, however, she is still in the public domain.
* WebOriginal/JennyEverywhere, the comic-book character, was explicitly ''created'' to serve this purpose. She's not so much public domain but as ''open source'' as modern copyright law permits of modern creations.
* Dave Sim has stated that upon his death, his GraphicNovel ''ComicBook/CerebusTheAardvark'' will enter the public domain.
* ''Webcomic/OutOfPrint'' is a {{Webcomic}} focusing [[UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfComicBooks Golden Age]] {{Super Hero}}es and the humor of being Public Domain Characters
* ComicStrip/LittleNemo (At least the character itself and the comic, not the movie.)
* The site [[http://pdsh.wikia.com/wiki/Public_Domain_Super_Heroes Public Domain Super Heroes]] is a [[TheWikiRule wiki]] all about public domain superhero characters. There are a few open source characters, a la Jenny Everywhere, as well. The rest are all Golden Age heroes or Silver Age characters that had their publishers ''badly'' screw up the copyright registration.
* The character of ComicStrip/{{Popeye}} (though not the films, TV shows, and other media based on him) became public domain in most countries, including the EU, in 2009, since the original creator, Elzie Segar, died in 1938. However, Popeye remains under copyright in the US. When Popeye first appeared in the ''Thimble Theatre'' comic strip in 1929, Segar was employed by the strip's owner, Creator/KingFeaturesSyndicate. As a result, Popeye is treated as a "work for hire" under US copyright law, and is protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. In turn, this means that the character will not pass into the public domain in the US until (at least) 2025.
** On the other hand, Popeye's love interest Olive Oyl, also created by Segar for ''Thimble Theatre'', entered the public domain in the US in 1995 -- 14 years before she entered the public domain in Europe. She made her first appearance in 1919, a full 10 years before Popeye. Under US copyright law at that time, copyrights lasted a maximum of 75 years, whether or not they were works for hire. Although the US later passed a copyright term extension, it specifically refused to restore copyright for works whose terms had ended. That being said, however, only pre-1923 versions of Olive Oyl are public domain in the US.
* ''ComicBook/JackStaff'' ran into trouble early on by assuming that the 1950s British comics supervillain the Spider was public domain. He wasn't, but fortunately the rightsholders were amused by the comic and allowed the character to continue to appear as long as he was [[WritingAroundTrademarks no longer explicitly named]] as "the Spider". All the comic's many subsequent revivals of characters from older British comics were [[CaptainErsatz Captains Ersatz]].

[[folder:Fan Fiction]]
* ''Fanfic/ChildOfTheStorm'' has Dracula mentioned, and he appears in the sequel as part of tbe BigBadEnsemble.
* ''Fanfic/LifeAfterHayate'' has an InUniverse subversion. The Wolkenritter's exploits from Ancient Belka's times were so infamous that they're still part of the popular culture of the Administrated Worlds, making them go-to villains in innumerable fictional works, many of them still available for purchase or in-production. Chrono realized that once the Wolkenritter became naturalized citizens of the TSAB, the unauthorized use of their likeness was now a crime and entitled them to punitive damages. Which is legalese for "a lot of people owe them some cash".

* Film/KingKong, sort of. The full story is complicated. Read Wiki/TheOtherWiki's take on it [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Kong#Legal_rights here]].
* Most of Creator/CharlieChaplin's films are public domain, as is his Tramp character.
* Creator/LaurelAndHardy.
* Film/CharlieChan.
* ''Film/ItsAWonderfulLife'' was VindicatedByCable as a result of falling into public domain.
** "Film/ItsAWonderfulLife" is, technically, in the public domain -- but you won't find it on any network other than NBC (or its co-owned cable channels) in the holiday season thanks to the twists in copyright law discovered by Republic Pictures. They currently own copyrights to the score of the movie and have secured the exclusive film rights to its literary basis, "The Greatest Gift" (which has not fallen into the public domain). As a result, Creator/{{Paramount}}, its successor company, is permitted to control the film as though they were the copyright holders.
* Visit any Wal-Mart in the US or Canada and you'll find many [=DVDs=] on budget labels featuring famous movies and movie stars. This is due to a huge number of films falling out of copyright and going into public domain, either due to failure by the studio to put a copyright notice on the film in the first place, or a studio or other entity failing to renew copyright. Among the literally hundreds of examples of films that are public domain and thus fair game for anyone to release on home video are the classic MGM musicals ''Royal Wedding'' and ''Till the Clouds Roll By'', the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn film ''Charade'', the Jayne Mansfield film ''The Fat Spy'', Jane Russell's ''The Outlaw'', the [[WesternAnimation/SupermanTheatricalCartoons Fleischer Superman cartoon shorts]] of the 1930s, and several Tarzan films. To name, literally, only a very few. Simply put, if you see the same film released by a half dozen different companies on Amazon or in a store, and it's not an "imported" bootleg, then odds are it's fallen into public domain.
* The Sonny Chiba ''Film/TheStreetFighter'' series. No, [[Franchise/StreetFighter not this one]]. One of the very few modern (post 1960) films to be thus. Its rights failed to renew.
* There was a book published in the 1970s called "50,000 motion pictures in the public domain" which took all of the copyright registrations for films starting around 1912 up through about 1975 or so, and dropped the ones for which copyright renewals were made. While a lot of these films either no longer exist - Irving Thalberg, as head of MGM, had a lot of films rendered (melted down) to recover their silver content - or have been lost, and some may be based on scripts or books that are still copyrighted, there are still a lot of films that are out of copyright because of failure to renew back when renewals were mandatory.
* ''Film/NightOfTheLivingDead1968'' technically never ''was'' properly under U.S. copyright, due to an editing-room flub that removed the film's copyright label along with its original "Night of the Flesh-Eaters" title. This opened the door for Romero-style zombies to become as much of a stock horror monster as vampires or werewolves.

[[folder:Light Novels]]
* ''LightNovel/HaiyoreNyarkoSan'': Uses Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, Cthugha, the Burning One, Hastur, the Unspeakable One, and other MoeAnthropomorphism versions of monstrosities from the Franchise/CthulhuMythos as its main characters.

* [[Literature/{{Dracula}} Count Dracula]], Abraham Van Helsing, and all the other Creator/BramStoker characters.
* FrankensteinsMonster
* Literature/{{Jack And The Beanstalk}}
** The Giant
* [[Theatre/DonGiovanni Don Juan]]
* RobinHood
* The characters of Creator/MarkTwain (who himself did this with KingArthur and the Knights of the Round Table!)
* Creator/HGWells's [[Literature/TheWarOfTheWorlds Martians]]
** Also true in the U.S. of [[Literature/TheIslandOfDoctorMoreau Dr. Moreau]] (along with his Beast-Men creations), the [[Literature/TheTimeMachine Morlocks and Eloi]], and Literature/TheInvisibleMan.
* [[Literature/TwentyThousandLeaguesUnderTheSea Captain Nemo]]
* Creator/WilliamShakespeare's characters.
* Franchise/SherlockHolmes, except for a few stories near the end in the US. Dr. Watson, too, or we'd have had lawsuits by now.
** Sherlock Holmes illustrates the differences in international copyright law. The first stories have never had copyright in the US. When ''Franchise/StarTrek'' first included them, Paramount almost '''did''' get sued because they were [[http://www.sherlockian.net/acd/copyright.html still under copyright in the UK]]. The Conan Doyle estate sent them a StronglyWordedLetter saying they'd have to pay a fee the next time they wanted to use Holmes, so they didn't revisit the character until two seasons later.
** There were also issues in the US as well over the copyright status of Sherlock Holmes as a whole, due to the aforementioned few stories still in copyright - the Conan Doyle estate has long argued that as long as these stories are in copyright, so is the entire literary canon of Holmes. This reasoning was struck down by the courts, so Holmes himself is very much in the public domain in the US (and in other countries where the estate's argument doesn't hold legal water) for certain, aside from aspects covered by the few stories still in copyright, which can be easily worked around if not ignored entirely.
* Many of the Literature/ArseneLupin stories are in the public domain in the United States, including the famous "crossovers" with Sherlock Holmes. At the time they were written Doyle put and end to Leblanc's efforts and the detective was forced to match wits with the GentlemanThief under the pseudonyms "Herlock Sholmes" and "Holmlock Shears." Now that both characters are freely available US publishers tend to publish the stories the way they were intended with the two great literary characters intersecting as [[WorthyOpponent Worthy Opponents]].
** In addition, the anime series ''Manga/LupinIII'', which focused on Lupin's grandson, can now be released under its original title outside of Japan; previously, the character was called "Rupan" or "The Wolf" in English-speaking countries.
* The first five books of Creator/EdgarRiceBurroughs' Mars series, where Literature/JohnCarterOfMars appeared, were published before 1923 and are out of copyright in the USA.
* Likewise, the first eight books of Burroughs' most famous creation, {{Tarzan}}, are public domain in the United States; however, Disney has tried to claim trademark rights, at least in Denmark. [[http://www.erblist.com/erbmania/trademark.html The Burroughs corporation beat them to it]]. Burroughs also co-owns the copyright in the Disney Tarzan film.
* ''Literature/TheWonderfulWizardOfOz'' and associated characters, as long as only material from the first 16 books of [[Literature/LandOfOz the series]] (published in 1922 or earlier) is used. (Thankfully, this includes all the Baum books.) The famous ruby slippers date from [[Film/TheWizardOfOz the 1939 movie]] and thus have to be licensed (the originals in the books are ''silver'').
* [[Literature/TheTaleOfGenji Hikaru Genji]]
* Several of Creator/HPLovecraft's characters, including [[Literature/HerbertWestReanimator Herbert West]] and Randolph Carter. Additionally, Lovecraft actually encouraged other writers to use the Franchise/CthulhuMythos in other works, thus making the mythos in general, and such characters as Cthulhu, and Yog-Sothoth are essentially in the public domain. ''All'' of Lovecraft's works became public domain in the European Union on January 1, 2008. Due to differing copyright laws, only "Dagon" (1919) and "Nyarlathotep" (1920) are undeniably public domain in the United States.
** Some research has suggested that later Lovecraft stories, produced during the time when copyright had to be renewed, were not renewed, making more characters out of copyright; this hasn't yet been tested in court. Wiki/TheOtherWiki has some information [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.P._Lovecraft#Intellectual_property here]].
*** Lovecraft's later works are copyright of Arkham House, a publishing company started by Lovecraft's contemporaries August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. D&D tried to integrate the Cthulhu mythos and was almost sued by a rival company Arkham had sold the rights to... it's complicated.
*** They weren't ''sued'' so much as Creator/{{Chaosium}} demanded that Creator/{{TSR}} put a ShoutOut to them prominently on the credits page of ''Deities and Demigods'', for TSR's use of both the Cthulhu and Elric universes (even though in the latter case, Creator/MichaelMoorcock himself had given TSR his enthusiastic blessing to use his characters Chaosium license or no.) After the first printing, someone at TSR said "this is nuts -- why are we giving free advertising to a competitor?" and decided to strip both the infringing material and the shout-out from the book.
* Mowgli and other characters from Creator/RudyardKipling's ''Literature/TheJungleBook''.
** Kipling's works originally entered the public domain in the EU in 1986, 50 years after his death. When this was extended to 70 years his works went back ''into'' copyright until 2006.
*** The situation was different in the US. ''The Jungle Book'' entered the US public domain in ''1951''; before changes in US copyright law in 1976, the maximum copyright term was 56 years.
* [[Literature/TreasureIsland Long John Silver]] and associates.
* Literature/RobinsonCrusoe
* [[Literature/TheLeatherstockingTales Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook]] and other characters by James Fenimore Cooper.
* Franchise/{{Zorro}} ''should'' be public domain, since his first story was 1919 and he appeared in a silent film in 1920, but in 2005 Sony sent a cease-and-desist to a company, Sobini, which wanted to make a Zorro movie. Sobini sued Sony in 2005 to try to get a decision that Sobini could use the character, but the outcome of this suit, if any, remains unreported. What news can be found is confusing and contradictory (such as news articles claiming that Sobini "acquired the rights" to the public domain 1919 story).
** [[http://www.zorro.com/about.html Zorro Productions, Inc.]] claims that it "controls the worldwide trademarks and copyrights in the name, visual likeness and the character of Zorro."
** In Sony Pictures Entertainment v. FIREWORKS ENTER. GROUP (2001) the court ruled that "the copyrights in "The Curse of Capistrano" and "The Mark of Zorro" lapsed in 1995 or before, the character Zorro has been in the public domain."
* The first two Creator/AgathaChristie books, including her famous character Literature/HerculePoirot, but only in the US.
* Any character from traditional {{fairy tale}}s, including those of:
** Creator/HansChristianAndersen
** Creator/CharlesPerrault
** Creator/TheBrothersGrimm.
* Literature/FuManchu.
** The first three Fu Manchu books were published prior to 1922 and are public domain in the USA; however, some characters are not public domain since they were introduced later, particularly his daughter Fah Lo Suee, who was only named in a later book. This has caused problems for Creator/MarvelComics, who cannot reprint ''Master of Kung Fu'', which uses not only Fu Manchu but other characters from the series. For instance, the martial arts hero Shang-Chi is a Marvel character and the son of Fu Manchu. Many stories refer to Shang's father being a Chinese crimelord but he is never seen or mentioned by name. Also, Fu Manchu is not in the public domain in Europe (Rohmer died in 1959), and Alan Moore could not name him in ''ComicBook/LeagueOfExtraordinaryGentlemen''.
** Similarly, it is strongly intimated in the novelization of ''Film/TheAdventuresOfBuckarooBanzaiAcrossTheEighthDimension'' that Hanoi Xan, the [[HeWhoMustNotBeSeen unseen]] BigBad who was completely edited out of the movie, is in fact Fu Manchu, but it's never explicitly stated.
* MotherGoose characters, like Humpty Dumpty, Old King Cole, and Mother Goose.
* Alice and other characters from ''Literature/AliceInWonderland'' and ''Through the Looking-Glass''.
** One of Creator/LewisCarroll's minor stories, "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles", written in 1895, was appropriated (with acknowledgment) by Douglas R. Hofstadter as a model for the dialogues in ''[[Literature/GodelEscherBach Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid]]''. The characters of the Tortoise and Achilles had in turn been suggested by [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno%27s_paradoxes an ancient Greek paradox]].
* Literature/{{Beowulf}}
* Literature/PeterPan
** Except in the United Kingdom, as it is one of the few fictional works to have a (limited) perpetual copyright, owned by the Great Ormond Street Hospital. This was gifted to them by Barrie himself in his will and confirmed by an Act of Parliament. Because of this, ''Peter Pan'' will never be in the public domain in the UK for as long as the hospital exists.
* [[Literature/TheTaleOfPeterRabbit Peter Rabbit]]: At least in North America.
* [[Literature/TheAdventuresOfPinocchio Pinocchio]]
* The characters of some of the best-known ''Literature/ArabianNights'' stories, although their personalities and abilities are often radically changed in modern treatments. Examples include:
** Scheherazade
** Literature/{{Aladdin}} (and his genie)
** Literature/SinbadTheSailor
** [[Literature/AliBabaAndTheFortyThieves Ali Baba]]
* ThePhantomOfTheOpera, as well as the two other sides of his [[TriangRelations love triangle]]. But tread lightly when adapting him so as to avoid taking too much inspiration from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, which ''is'' under copyright.
* Sun Wukong/Son Goku from ''Literature/JourneyToTheWest''. (No, not [[Manga/DragonBall ''THAT'']] Son Goku... He is very well copyrighted as [[Creator/TeamFourStar Some People]] well know...)
** Not to be confused with the Son Goku from [[Manga/{{Saiyuki}} Gensomaden Saiyuki]], [[Manga/{{Patalliro}} Patalliro Saiyuki]], LightNovel/{{Gokudo}}...
* [[Literature/ThePictureOfDorianGray Dorian Gray]], and in fact all of Wilde's works.
* Franchise/ConanTheBarbarian is public domain in the United Kingdom, and everywhere in the EU, since January 2007 (70 years after the death of Creator/RobertEHoward). In Australia and Canada, all the Conan stories published by Howard in his lifetime had been in the public domain since 1987. In the USA, at least two-thirds of the Conan stories actually by Howard (as opposed to [[PosthumousCollaboration posthumous "collaborations"]] with Creator/LSpragueDeCamp and others) are also in the public domain, since the copyrights were not renewed. However, anyone planning on doing their own version of Conan must be careful not to upset the '''trademark''' holder, [[http://www.conan.com/ip.shtml Conan Properties International, which has defended the mark very energetically]].[[note]]As noted above, ads for Creator/ConanOBrien's new show ''Conan'' contain the notice "CONAN is used with the permission of Conan Properties International LLC.".[[/note]] It should also be noted that many other aspects of the Conan setting (e.g. ''Comicbook/RedSonja'') are not from the original Howard stories and are still under copyright.
* Literature/CarnackiTheGhostFinder, created by Creator/WilliamHopeHodgson.
* Theatre/SweeneyTodd
* All the works of Creator/JaneAusten, Creator/EmilyBronte, Creator/AnneBronte, Creator/CharlotteBronte, Creator/LordByron, Creator/JamesBoswell, Creator/SamuelJohnson, etc., etc., etc. And, of course, all the ancient Greek and Roman writers (at least in their original language; translations may be under copyright).
* The first Literature/LordPeterWimsey novel, ''Whose Body?'', is in the public domain in the US and Canada, but not in the UK or Europe.
* Most, if not all, of Creator/GKChesterton's characters. They're not often used for this purpose, but Literature/FatherBrown has been known to have a {{cameo}} here and there.
* All the books featured in the pioneering e-book endeavor The Gutenberg Project are, in theory, supposed to be in the public domain (with the exception of a few for which the creators have specifically given permission). Many of the examples listed above are in fact available though Gutenberg.
* Prester John and John Mandeville in ''Literature/DirgeForPresterJohn''.
* Literature/DonQuixote
* All works of Creator/PaulFeval including any of the few rare English Translations made while he was alive. But not the recent Translations made by Black Coat Press or Borgo Press.
** ''Literature/TheBlackCoats'', and works made retroactively in continuity with them, ''Literature/JohnDevil'', ''Literature/GentlemenOfTheNight'', ''Bell Demonio'' and its sequel ''The Companions of Silence''.
** ''Le Bossu'' both the novel and Play, but not any of his many post-1923 films or the Play's recent Translation by Frank Morlock.
** ''Literature/TheVampireCountess'', ''Literature/{{Knightshade}}'', and ''Literature/VampireCity''
* [[Literature/TheStrangeCaseOfDrJekyllAndMrHyde Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde]].
* All characters in the [[Literature/TheLionTheWitchAndTheWardrobe Narnia]] series became public domain in Canada in 2014 (CS Lewis died in 1963)
* The literary [[Literature/JamesBond James Bond]] became public domain in Canada in 2015, after 50 years had passed since Creator/IanFleming had died; an unofficial series of short stories is being published there.
** Aspects original to the James Bond movies are still under copyright.
* ''Literature/TheSecretGarden'': Which is why there have been so many movie versions since 1994.

[[folder: Live-Action TV]]
* Just as with films (see above), there are many American-produced TV series that have fallen into public domain. Or, as the case may be, only selected episodes have. Examples include the '50s ''Franchise/{{Dragnet}}'' series, ''{{Series/Bonanza}}'', many early episodes of ''Series/TheBeverlyHillbillies'', ''Series/PetticoatJunction'' (most of its first season, in fact), and about a dozen episodes of the ''Dick Van Dyke Show''. In some cases DVD and VHS releases of these episodes have to be re-edited to remove elements that are still in copyright, such as theme music.

[[folder: Religion, Folklore, & Mythology]]
* Characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology and literature, such as [[Characters/ClassicalMythology Hercules]], [[Literature/TheIliad Achilles]], [[Literature/TheOdyssey Odysseus]], {{Oedipus}}, [[Characters/ClassicalMythology Orpheus]], as well as the various gods and goddesses. Myth/NorseMythology is also used as a background for many stories, but less often than Greek and Roman myths.
** Note also that the ''names'' Gandalf, Dvalin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Thorin, Thror, Thrain, Dain, Durin, and Fundin all show up in the old Norse poem Völuspá... as newly created dwarves, who are never mentioned again. As ''names'', they are in the public domain. Of course, if you try to portray Gandalf as a wizard rather than a dwarf, you might be hearing from the lawyers of a certain estate...
* {{God}}. In fact, all figures from religions that were founded before the 20th century. Still, it would probably be a bad idea to say that God looks shockingly like Creator/MorganFreeman, or Creator/GeorgeBurns. Others include:
** UsefulNotes/{{Jesus}}
** ArchangelGabriel
** ArchangelMichael
** HorsemenOfTheApocalypse
** TheThreeWiseMen
** {{Satan}} (aka Lucifer aka The Devil, though some treatments make these more than one character)
** Noah
** Moses
** King David
** Ahura Mazda -- a car manufacturer stole his name.
** Christian Saints, for example St. Cuthbert[[note]]Yes, [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuthbert Cuthbert]] existed before ''TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons''[[/note]].
** The [[{{Kaiju}} Tarasque]] from the legend of St. Martha in the ''Golden Legend''.[[note]]Again, yes. The Tarasque existed before ''TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons''[[/note]].
* TheGrimReaper
** {{Shinigami}}
* SantaClaus, unless YouMeanXmas
** MrsClaus
** All of Santa's reindeer ''except'' Rudolph.
* Literature/BabaYaga
* TheBigBadWolf
* Myth/KingArthur
** The many Knights of the Round Table and Knights of the Grail, including [[TheAce Lancelot]], [[NumberTwo Bedivere]], [[ThePaladin Galahad]], [[Literature/{{Parzival}} Percival]], and [[SoleSurvivor Bors]]. But not [[Film/MontyPythonAndTheHolyGrail Sir Robin]].
** Characters/ArthurPendragon, the King himself
** Characters/TheLadyOfTheLake ([[EnigmaticEmpoweringEntity or an equivalent]])
** Myth/{{Merlin}}
* [[Disney/{{Mulan}} Hua Mulan]]
* [[UsefulNotes/{{Shinto}} Amaterasu]], Susanoo, and [[{{Orochi}} Yamata no Orochi]].
* Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru from ''JiraiyaGoketsuMonogatari''. Yep, that's where [[Manga/{{Naruto}} they]] came from.
** In the same vein, the [[BadassGrandpa Third Hokage (Hiruzen Sarutobi)]] and [[TheLancer Sasuke Uchiha]] were named after UsefulNotes/SarutobiSasuke.
* TheIlluminati and UsefulNotes/TheKnightsTemplar.
* Literature/{{Momotaro}}

[[folder: Tabletop Games]]
* Countless games use gods and heroes out of mythology and folklore in various ways.
* For a game use of the Nedor out-of-copyright superheroes, see the notes on ''Adventures Into Darkness'' in the Comic Books section above.

[[folder: Video Games]]
* ''Franchise/ShinMegamiTensei'' uses figures from every religion and mythology on the planet as {{Mon}}s. These include figures from UsefulNotes/{{Christianity}}, Myth/JapaneseMythology, Myth/MesopotamianMythology, Myth/HinduMythology, Myth/ClassicalMythology, Myth/ChineseMythology, Myth/KoreanMythology, Myth/CelticMythology, Myth/AztecMythology, Myth/IncaMythology, the Myth/KingArthur legend, Myth/NorseMythology, Myth/SlavicMythology, and so on.
** ''VideoGame/Persona5'' uses a number of characters from {{Picaresque}} fiction as the main characters' {{Guardian Entit|y}}ies, including Literature/ArseneLupin, Franchise/{{Zorro}}, Literature/RobinHood, and Theatre/{{Carmen}}.

[[folder: Web Comics]]
* ''Webcomic/FilthBiscuit'' is composed of Golden Age comics in the public domain that have been rewritten as adult humor, with a great deal of SelfReferentialHumor and GenreDeconstruction.
* ''Webcomic/{{Lightbringer}}'': All of the characters and stories in the series were released into the public domain by its creator, [[WebVideo/AtopTheFourthWall Linkara]] on September 20, 2013.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* Website/TheFreeUniverse collects many public domain heroes and characters and sets up templates for modern writers to use them.
* The fears of ''Franchise/TheFearMythos''
** Except [[Franchise/TheSlenderManMythos the Slender Man]]. See [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slender_Man#Copyright here]] for more details.
* All the characters from ''VisualNovel/{{Morenatsu}}''.
* WebOriginal/JennyEverywhere was ''deliberately created'' to be this.
* The entire point of WebOriginal/{{Fanpro}}. All of the characters are public domain, and there's no canon besides what the fans create.
* ''Roleplay/DarwinsSoldiers'' author [=LettuceBacon=]&Tomato explicitly released every one of his characters except Dr. Shelton into the public domain. This presumably includes Shelton's [[http://darwinssoldiers.wikia.com/wiki/Oscar_Shelton anti-matter duplicate]] who possesses all of the original's memories, meaning it'd be quite easy to bypass the actual Shelton's copyright.
* Despite the fact that Peter Anspach copyrighted his version of the EvilOverlordList, the truth is, anyone is free to use it in any way they want for one simple reason: Jack Butler, the owner of the ''other'' version of the EvilOverlordList (which is functionally identical to Anspach's) intentionally released the copyright on his list, making it public domain. Were Anspach actually to press a copyright claim on anyone (unlikely), all that need happen is point out that you're quoting Butler's list, not Anspach's, and suddenly Anspach's claim evaporates into the ether.
* WebOriginal/{{Inglip}} will ''smite'' anyone trying to copyright him.

[[folder: Western Animation]]
* All of the cartoons created by Creator/VanBeurenStudios are public domain, as are all the characters they created (with the exception of pre-existing characters they had licensed, such as Otto Soglow's ''Little King'', the stars of Fontaine Fox's ''Toonerville Trolley'' and ''WesternAnimation/FelixTheCat'') are public domain, as the studio abruptly went belly up in 1936, and nobody bothered to claim ownership of their library or characters. Their ''Tom & Jerry'' characters do run into a hiccup, as a [[WesternAnimation/TomAndJerry more famous cartoon duo bearing the same name]] had surfaced a few years after the studio's demise, forcing home movie reissues of their cartoons to [[AdaptationalNameChange rename the characters Dick & Larry.]] Even Thunderbeans' complete DVD rerelease of the cartoons had to distinguish them as "Van Beuren's Tom & Jerry" to prevent people from confusing them with the cat and mouse duo.
* {{Popeye}} entered the public domain in Europe as of 2009.
** And while it'll be quite a few years before he goes public domain in the US, all of the original Fleischer cartoon serials have entered the public domain, as well as some of the later Famous Studios shorts.
** In addition, Popeye is often the source of LawyerFriendlyCameo appearances -- thinly-veiled muscular sailors have appeared [[http://crossover.bureau42.com/zpopeye.html in both DC and Marvel comics]].
** Ironically, Disney could not clear the rights in time to have Popeye appear in ''Film/WhoFramedRogerRabbit''. This, after they co-produced TheMovie of {{Popeye}} with Paramount.