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Public Domain Character

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The Count has had many faces, some friendlier than others.note 

"God bless the public domain."
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, on introducing Dracula

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 before 1928 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 yearsnote . The longest copyright term in the world is that of Mexico, in which since 2003, works do not enter the public domain until the author has been dead for 100 yearsnote . Under the Berne Convention, work-for-hire has a copyright term of 100 years from the date of publication. Additionally, the copyright holder may choose to release it prematurely into the Public Domain.

Most notably, the authors only have to be dead for 50 years for their works to enter the public domain in Canada or New Zealand - meaning that those of C. S. Lewis and Ian Fleming (died in 1963 and 1964) are no longer under copyright in those countries. Though Canada is a party to a 2018 trade agreement that uses a minimum life-plus-70 term, it remains to be seen whether they will make that change retroactive. Mexico is also a party to that agreement, in which its "life plus 100" term is preserved. In Australia, the work of any author who died before 1955 is public domain; the country changed from a "life plus 50" term to "life plus 70" in 2004, but did not make the change retroactive.

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 Steamboat Willie, the first widely-released Mickey Mouse cartoon. It is generally agreed that the most recent extension of American copyright duration — the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act — was enacted at the behest of the Disney Company solely to keep Mickey Mouse cartoons from entering the public domain. This is why the act was derisively referred to by detractors as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

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. As of January 2012, it is now possible in the United States for 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.) However, no copyright extension took place in 2018—not even Disney lobbied for such a change. In fact, the main US lobby for authors now publicly advocates reducing copyright terms!note  This means that for the first time in two decades, the public domain saw new additions in 2019, specifically (almost all) works created in 1923.note 

This reversal of extending copyrights can be traced to, at least for U.S. copyright laws, something that was just becoming part of everyday reality in 1998 when the Sonny Bono Act was passed: the Internet. With now almost any work of literature, TV, film, or music now available to download legally or illegally, trying to keep an iron grip on copyrighted works and characters has become near-pointless. To address this, many companies have set up streaming services and places to legally download works, usually with incentives in place to make it more appealing to the consumer like extras included before only found on DVDs, higher picture quality for shows and movies, and offering a whole library of works on streaming services for a monthly rate instead of having to pay per download. Even Disney, the juggernaut that has often been responsible for copyright extension, has developed an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude. They have now included many early cartoons for anyone to watch on their YouTube channel including, you guessed it, Steamboat Willie.

A distinction should be made between public domain characters and public domain works; Bugs Bunny is a trademarked character and not in the 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 adaptations. 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. Norse Mythology, in and of itself, is in the public domain, but if you try to make a blond Thor with a red cape and a hammer that Only the Chosen May Wield,note  you may be in trouble.

It should be noted that, in general, a trademark is forever. As long as the holder of the trademark is creating some kind of "product" (media counts), and 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 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 narrow and 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 probably find a way to get that character in by creating a Captain Ersatz or an Alternate Company Equivalent, or by utilizing a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo. 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 Historical Domain Character (see below). Of course, sometimes all this can just go too far when a certain popular character becomes known as a Fountain of Expies.

A character can also fall into the public domain if it doesn't meet the threshold of 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 Historical Domain Character, which are people from Real Life; and Literary Mash-Ups, in which entire public domain works are... erm, "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, in certain instances, people don't often realize the history of certain characters, resulting in Reality Is Unrealistic. 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. An example regarding trademarks is the agreement between Conan O'Brien's producers and the owner of the Conan the Barbarian 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.

See also Public Domain Artifact for when this trope is focused on different artifacts and objects also under Public Domain, and Public Domain Canon Welding when this is done with entire settings.

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List of common public domain characters

    Folklore and Mythology 

Arabian Nights
The Brothers Grimm
Charles Perrault
Other Fairy Tales
Other Literature
  • Arsène Lupin in all countries outside the US, as author Maurice Leblanc died in 1941.note  In the US, any element of the series introduced before 1928.
  • Beowulf
  • Carmilla
  • Cthulhu
  • Don Quixote
  • Dracula
  • Frankenstein's Monster
  • Fu Manchu, in countries where the copyright term is "Life plus 60" or lower, plus any countries where the work of creators who died before 1960 is PD.note  In the US, any element of the series introduced before 1928. See the "Other public domain characters: Literature" folder for more details.
  • The Invisible Man
  • Jekyll & Hyde
  • John Carter in countries with life plus 70 or lower. In the US, any element of the series introduced before 1928. However, not PD yet in Spain, which was "life plus 80" until 1987; since Edgar Rice Burroughs died in 1950, his works won't be PD there until 2031.
  • Kalevipoeg
  • Peter Pan, but only outside of the United Kingdom. See the "Other public domain characters: Literature" folder for more details.
  • Reynard the Fox
  • Rip Van Winkle
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • Sennentuntschi
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Sweeney Todd
  • Tarzan — since Tarzan, like John Carter, was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, his copyright status is the same as that of John Carter. However, the trademark is another story. See "Other public domain characters: Literature".
  • Zorro, in countries with life plus 60 or lower, plus any countries where the work of creators who died before 1959 is PD. (Among these: Canada and NZ.) In the US, any element of the series introduced before 1928. See "Other public domain characters: Literature".


Other public domain characters in media

Please note: A character may be in the public domain, but still trademarked, especially if it's an advertising mascot.
  • Mr. Peanut first appeared in 1916.
  • Bobby Shelby started out in instructional comic strips put out by the Shelby Cycle Company before getting his own comic series.
  • Bubbles and Yanks used Super Duper Yanks Bubble Gum to save America's atomic secrets.
  • Captain Tootsie for Tootsie Rolls.
  • Sinclair Oil's Miracle Man.
  • Uncle Sam and the woman in the "We Can Do It!" poster, often incorrectly conflated with Rosie the Riveter.note 
  • Pepsi and Pete the Pepsi-Cola Cops

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Krazy Kat (as well as all original strips) became public domain in most countries (especially Europe, apart from Spain) in 2015, as the strip's author George Herriman died in 1944.
  • Little Nemo — at least the character itself and the comic, not the movie.
  • Popeye:
    • The character of Popeye (though not the films, TV shows, and other media based on him) became public domain in most countries, including almost all of the EU, in 2009, since the original creator, Elzie Segar, died in 1938. Spain had to wait until 2019. Popeye became PD even earlier in Australia, Canada, Mexico, and NZ, all of which used "life plus 50" (or, in the case of Mexico, life plus 30). While Australia and Mexico later extended their terms, those changes weren't made retroactive; Canada's change to "life plus 70" didn't affect Popeye's PD status there. 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, King Features Syndicate. 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. In addition, Popeye is often the source of Lawyer-Friendly Cameo appearances — thinly-veiled muscular sailors have appeared in both DC and Marvel comics. Ironically, Disney could not clear the rights in time to have Popeye appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This, after they co-produced The Movie of Popeye with Paramount.
    • And while it'll be a few years before Popeye 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.
    • 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 (24 in Spain) 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-1928 elements of Olive Oyl are public domain in the US.
  • The Yellow Kid first appeared in 1895.
  • Ally Sloper
  • Billy Bounce
  • Buster Brown
  • Ella Cinders
  • Happy Hooligan
  • Harold Teen
  • The Katzenjammer Kids
  • Mr. Jack and his supporting cast.
  • Mutt and Jeff
  • Winnie Winkle.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • See Public Domain Feature Films for more.
  • Grant Gardner, the titular character from the In Name Only 1940s Captain America film serial, is public domain, along with all other characters introduced in the serial. However, the Captain America name is still trademarked by Marvel, so Grant can be used by anyone as long as he isn't called Captain America and doesn't take any elements from the Captain America from the comics (shield, super-soldier serum, etc.).
  • King Kong, sort of. But It's a Long Story. Read The Other Wiki's take on it here.
  • Most of Charlie Chaplin's films are public domain, as is his Tramp character.
  • Laurel and Hardy.
  • Charlie Chan.
  • It's a Wonderful Life was Vindicated by Cable as a result of falling into public domain.
    • It's a Wonderful Life may technically be 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, Paramount, its successor company, is permitted to control the film as though they were the copyright holders. The only elements of the film that are arguably PD today are the visual images.
  • Visit any Walmart 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 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.
  • Most of the old movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are in public domain, which is how they were easily used on the show.
  • The Sonny Chiba The Street Fighter series. No, 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.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) 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.
  • Seymour, Audrey II, and the others from The Little Shop of Horrors. But only the versions of them from the 1960 film, and not the musical based off of it or the second movie based off the musical.
  • The zombie-using aliens and others from Plan 9 from Outer Space.
  • Ro-Man the Robot Monster. (AKA "The gorilla in a diving helmet that wiped out the human race".)
  • Pitch the demon, Lupita, Santa's helpers, and the depictions of Merlin and Santa himself from Santa Claus (1959).
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: The emotionally-stunted green Martians.
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Doctor Caligari, Cesare, and the rest.
  • Metropolis: The Machine Man, Freder, Rotwang, and all the other inhabitants of Metropolis.
  • Universal Horror:
    • In addition to his literary version (see the Literature section), the 1925 version of the Phantom of the Opera and related characters. The 1925 film has actually been PD in the US since 1954 because Universal failed to renew the copyright back when that was required.
    • Ditto for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), right down to Universal failing to renew copyright, meaning that it's been PD in the US since 1952.
  • Nosferatu: Count Orlok.
  • Vietnam veteran Andy Crocker of The Ballad of Andy Crocker.
  • The Giant Gila Monster.
  • McLintock and the others from, well, McLintock!.
  • Rin Tin Tin.
  • Esther, Norman, and the others from A Star Is Born (1937). (But only the original, none of the remakes.)

    Folklore and Mythology 

  • Dracula: Count Dracula, Abraham Van Helsing, and all the other Bram Stoker characters.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk: The Giant.
  • Don Giovanni: Don Juan.
  • The characters of Mark Twain (who himself did this with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table!)
  • H. G. Wells's Martians
  • Captain Nemo and every other character created by Verne. Characters from Paris in the Twentieth Century being the only exception as it was only published in 1994, 89 years after his death.
  • William Shakespeare's characters.
  • Sherlock Holmes. 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 Star Trek first included them, Paramount almost did get sued because they were still under copyright in the UK. The Conan Doyle estate sent them a Strongly Worded Letter 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 was 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 that where copyrighted until 2023, which was easily worked around if not ignored entirely.
    • A lawsuit by the Conan Doyle estate over the Enola Holmes films tried to assert that works which depict Holmes as a warmer and more caring person are not in the public domain, as stories depicting Holmes in this fashion apparently only appeared in The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes — which is, likely not coincidentally, the only volume of Holmes stories which remained under partial US copyright to the estate until 2023.
  • Many of the Arsène Lupin 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 an end to Leblanc's efforts and the detective was forced to match wits with the Gentleman Thief 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 worthy opponents.
    • In addition, the anime series Lupin III, 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 six books of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series, where John Carter of Mars appeared, were published before 1928 and are out of copyright in the USA.
    • Likewise, the first nine books plus the first short story collection 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. The Burroughs corporation beat them to it. The Burroughs estate also co-owns the copyright in the Disney Tarzan film.
    • Since Burroughs died in 1950, all of his works entered the public domain in Mexico in 1981 (which still used life plus 30), Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in 2001, and in the EU (except Spain) and UK in 2021. Spain has to wait until 2031.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and associated characters, as long as only material from the first 20 books of the series (published in 1926 or earlier), plus a few later books whose copyrights were not renewed, is used. (Thankfully, this includes all the Baum books.) The famous ruby slippers date from the 1939 movie and thus have to be licensed from Warner Bros.; the originals in the books are silver.
  • Hikaru Genji
  • Several of H. P. Lovecraft's characters, including Herbert West and Randolph Carter. Additionally, Lovecraft actually encouraged other writers to use the Cthulhu Mythos in other works, thus making the mythos in general, and such characters as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, essentially in the public domain. All of Lovecraft's works became public domain in the European Union except Spain on January 1, 2008; Spain followed 10 years later. Due to differing copyright laws, only 34 of his 65 works of fiction (those published before 1928) 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. The Other Wiki has some information 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 Chaosium demanded that TSR put a Shout-Out 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, Michael Moorcock 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 Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
    • Kipling's works originally entered the public domain in the EU in 1987, following the 50th anniversary of his death. When this was extended to 70 years, with the change being made retroactive, his works went back into copyright until 2007. Except in Spain, where they never entered the PD in the first place and remained in copyright until 2017 due to its former "life plus 80" term.
      • They entered the public domain in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand at the same time they did in the EU (except Spain), and in Mexico in 1967, but never went back into copyright. Australia changed to a "life plus 70" term, but didn't make the change retroactive. Mexico also didn't make its later changes to "life plus 50", "life plus 75", and "life plus 100" retroactive. NZ still uses the "life plus 50" term; even if Canada makes its change to "life plus 70" retroactive, that won't affect Kipling's PD status in that country.
      • The situation was very different in the US. The Jungle Book entered the US public domain in 1951; before changes in US copyright law that took effect in 1978, the maximum copyright term was 56 years.
      • Though the original books are in the public domain, The Jungle Play—a reworking of the stories written by Kipling—was discovered posthumously and not published until the early 2000s, leaving it under copyright.
  • Long John Silver and associates.
  • Natty Bumppo, Chingachgook and other characters by James Fenimore Cooper (who died in 1851).
  • Zorro should be public domain in the US, 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).
    • 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 Entertainment Group (2001) the court ruled that because "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."
    • Zorro is indisputably public domain in NZ, and also in Canada unless its change to "life plus 70" is retroactive. However, the character is still under copyright in almost all of the EU, the UK, and Australia until 2029, Spain until 2039, and in Mexico until 2059 (author Johnston McCulley died in 1958).
  • The first six Agatha Christie novels, three of which feature her famous character Hercule Poirot, but only in the US. Her first short story collection, also featuring Poirot, is also PD in the US.
  • Any character from traditional fairy tales, including those of:
  • Fu Manchu:
    • The first three books published prior to 1925 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 despite being introduced in the third book in 1917 was not named until the fourth book in 1931. This has caused problems for Marvel Comics, 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 crime lord but he is never seen or mentioned by name. Also, Fu Manchu is not in the public domain in Europe and the UK (the series' author Sax Rohmer died in 1959), and Alan Moore could not name him in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. However, due to the different copyright terms in Canada and New Zealand, the entire Fu Manchu series is PD in both countries.
    • Similarly, it is strongly intimated in the novelization of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension that Hanoi Xan, the unseen Big Bad who was completely edited out of the movie, is in fact Fu Manchu, but it's never explicitly stated.
  • Mother Goose characters, like Humpty Dumpty, Old King Cole, and Mother Goose.
  • Alice and other characters from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
  • Beowulf
  • Peter Pan
    • 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. However, GOSH only has the right to royalties; it does not have creative control over the material, and cannot refuse permission to use it.
    • GOSH claims that the play will not enter the US PD until 2024. While the play was originally published in the UK in 1904, it didn't get its first US performance until 1928. The hospital acknowledges that the novel (first published in 1911) is PD in the States.
    • Given that Barrie died in 1937, Peter Pan entered the public domain in almost all of Europe in 2008 (70 years after the creator's death) and Spain in 2018 (80 years after).
  • Peter Rabbit: Beatrix Potter died in 1943. In the US, the character entered the PD in 1959; when the first Peter Rabbit story was published in 1902, the maximum copyright term was 56 years. However, Penguin Random House owns ancillary rights to the franchise.
  • Pinocchio
  • Doctor Dolittle:
    • The entire series has been PD in Mexico since 1978, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand since 1998, and in the EU (except Spain) and UK since 2018, as Hugh Lofting died in 1947.
    • Since the US copyright term of works from Lofting's lifetime is based on the date of publication instead of the creator's lifespan, only the first six books and the only short story, published between 1920 and 1926, are currently public domain in the US. The last Doctor Dolittle book that included original material wasn't published until 1950 and thus will not enter the US PD until 2046. The final Dolittle book, published in 1952, was a compilation of stories that had been published between 1920 and 1927; the book itself won't be PD until 2048, but the contents will become PD no later than 2023.
  • The characters of some of the best-known Arabian Nights stories, although their personalities and abilities are often radically changed in modern treatments. Examples include:
  • The Phantom of the Opera, as well as the two other sides of his 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 worldwide. Or, for that matter, taking too much inspiration from any major adaptation except the 1925 film; all others are under copyright in the US.
  • Sun Wukong/Son Goku from Journey to the West.
  • Dorian Gray, and in fact all of Wilde's works.
  • Conan the Barbarian has been public domain in the United Kingdom, and almost everywhere in the EU, since January 2007 (70 years after the death of Robert E. Howard). In Spain, with its "life plus 80" term for creators who died before 1987, it became PD in January 2017. In Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, 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 posthumous "collaborations" with L. Sprague de Camp 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, Conan Properties International, which has defended the mark very energetically.note  It should also be noted that many other aspects of the Conan setting (e.g. Red Sonja) are not from the original Howard stories and are still under copyright.
  • Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, created by William Hope Hodgson.
  • Sweeney Todd
  • All the works of Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Anne Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Lord Byron, James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, 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 Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Whose Body? (published in 1923), has been in the public domain in Canada and New Zealand since 2008 (the original author, Dorothy L. Sayers, died in 1957). As for the US, because Sayers' representatives failed to apply for an extension of copyright, it entered the public domain in 1952.note  However, none of the Wimsey books will be PD in the UK, most of the EU, or Australia until 2028, in Spain until 2038, or in Mexico until 2058. And this applies only to the books Sayers wrote during her life; the modern Wimsey books by the still-living Jill Paton Walsh are decades away from becoming PD anywhere.
  • Most, if not all, of G. K. Chesterton's characters. They're not often used for this purpose, but Father Brown has been known to have a cameo here and there.
    • Since Chesterton died in 1936, all of his works are PD in all major territories except the US. Since the US copyright term for works from Chesterton's lifetime is based on the date of publication, about two-thirds of his works are PD in the States. As for Father Brown, he made his first appearance in 1910, making him PD there (elements that were only introduced in post-1926 works are still under copyright, but those can easily be worked around).
  • 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 through Gutenberg.
  • Prester John and John Mandeville in Dirge for Prester John.
  • Don Quixote
  • All works of Paul Féval 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.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • All characters in the Narnia series became public domain in Canada and New Zealand in 2014 (C.S. Lewis died in 1963).
  • The literary James Bond became public domain in Canada and New Zealand in 2015, after 50 years had passed since Ian Fleming had died; an unofficial series of short stories is being published in Canada.
    • Aspects original to the James Bond movies are still under copyright.
  • The Secret Garden: Which is why there have been so many movie versions since 1995 (when the work became PD in the EU; parts of it became PD in the US in 1986 and the rest in 1987).note 
  • Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March
  • Pulp superhero the Black Bat has fallen into the public domain since his heyday in the 1930s.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald:
    • Since he died in 1940, all of his works became PD in Mexico (which then used life plus 30) in 1971 and in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in 1991.
    • However, due to the aforementioned change in EU copyright law (this was long before Brexit), they went back into copyright in the UK in 1996. On the other hand, because Australia didn't make its change to "life plus 70" retroactive, Fitzgerald's works remained PD there. The same applied in Mexico, which didn't make its later term extensions retroactive.
    • They became PD in almost all of the EU (and the UK) in 2011. Spain had to wait until 2021.
    • As for the US, the PD date for works from his lifetime depends on the date of publication. His first novel, This Side of Paradise, went PD in 2016, followed by The Beautiful and Damned as well as his first two short story collections in 2018 and The Great Gatsby in 2021. Tender Is the Night will have to wait until 2030.
  • Quasimodo, Esmerelda, and Claude Frollo.
  • Ivanhoe.
  • Allan Quatermain.
  • Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab, and Ishmael.
  • Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.
  • C. Auguste Dupin.
  • Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas.
  • Lemuel Gulliver and the various people and creatures he encounters in his travels.
  • The Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan.
  • Varney the Vampire.
  • Frank Reade.
  • Dr. Nikola.
  • Nyctalope.
  • Coppelius and Olimpia.
  • Doctor Omega, a Doctor Who-esque space-traveling scientist created by Arnould Galopin.
  • Hercule Poirot, or at least elements of the character featured in the first couple of books, is public domain in the US.
  • Winnie the Pooh entered the US public domain in 2022, though the UK will have to wait until at least 2027 (author A. A. Milne died in 1956, while illustrator E.H. Shepard died in 1976). The Disney adaptations are still under copyright until at least 2062.
    • The text has been in the Canadian and New Zealand public domains since 2007.
    • All of Pooh's friends are in the public domain except Tigger (who made his debut in 1928), and Disney's Canon Foreigners Gopher and Lumpy.
  • Emmeline, Dick, and other characters of Henry De Vere Stacpoole's The Blue Lagoon became public domain in the EU (except Spain) in 2022; in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in 2002; and in Mexico in 1982. They, however, are still under copyright in Spain until 2032 (author Stacpoole died in 1951).
    • It was a different situation in the US, where The Blue Lagoon entered the public domain in 1965, before the aforementioned changes in US copyright law took effect in 1978.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Just as with films (see above), there are many American-produced TV series that have fallen into the public domain. Or, as the case may be, only selected episodes have. Examples include the '50s Dragnet series, Bonanza, many early episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction (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.
  • Most of the episodes of One Step Beyond, a supernatural anthology predecessor to such shows as The Twilight Zone (1959) and The Outer Limits (1963). The show purports to be based on real-life events, and itself often uses Historical Domain Characters.
  • Captain Z-Ro, a reclusive scientist that would use his ZX-99 machine to observe various points in time, and, when necessary, send his assistant Jet back in time to make sure that history unfolded according to how it was originally recorded.

  • Darwin's Soldiers author LettuceBacon&Tomato explicitly released every one of his characters except Dr. Shelton into the public domain. This presumably includes Shelton's anti-matter duplicate who possesses all of the original's memories, meaning it'd be quite easy to bypass the actual Shelton's copyright.

    Visual Novel 
  • All of the characters from Morenatsu were designed anonymously by different artists during early development on 2Chan, leading them to be part of the public domain.

  • Lightbringer: All of the characters and stories in the series were released into the public domain by its creator, Linkara on September 20, 2013.
  • Jenny Everywhere, 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.
  • Jack author David Hopkins released all of the characters he created into the public domain as of January 16, 2021. This, however, does not apply to characters owned by others who have appeared in the comic, such as Skye Bluedeer and Reckonin.

    Web Original 
  • The Free Universe collects many public domain heroes and characters and sets up templates for modern writers to use them.
  • The fears of The Fear Mythos Except the Slender Man. See here for more details.
  • The entire point of Fanpro. All of the characters are public domain, and there's no canon besides what the fans create.
  • Despite the fact that Peter Anspach copyrighted his version of the Evil Overlord List, 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 Evil Overlord List (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.
  • Inglip will smite anyone trying to copyright him.

    Western Animation 
  • All of the cartoons created by Van Beuren Studios 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 Felix the Cat) 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 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 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.
  • Private Snafu, being made for the U.S. government, was already automatically public domain.
  • Baby Hueynote 
  • Buzzy the Crow, although in his first public domain appearance he didn't have the name yet.note 
  • Clutch Cargo
    • Space Angel, from the same company as Clutch Cargo, about three astronauts adventuring in space working for the Earth Bureau of Investigation's Interplanetary Space Force.
  • Calvin T. Burnside, Colonel Montgomery J. Klaxon, Maggie Belle, and the rest from Calvin and the Colonel.
  • Colonel Bleep.
  • Dog Face from A Mutt in a Rut.
  • Flip the Frog.
  • Gertie the Dinosaur.
  • Heckle and Jeckle first appeared in the public domain cartoon "The Talking Magpies", although they were pretty different from their more recognizable selves.note 
  • Little Audreynote 
  • Some Looney Tunes characters:
  • Disney:
    • Susie the Little Blue Coupe.
    • The titular Doctor XXX from The Mad Doctor.
    • Alice and the Funny Animals from the Alice Comedies, including an early version of Pete.
    • Oswald the Lucky Rabbit entered the United States public domain on January 1st, 2023, as his first 9 shorts from 1927 has had their copyright expired.
      • However, his modern colorized version from Disney, along with the Walter Lantz version will still be copyrighted until those copyrights expire 96 years after publication.
    • Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are set to enter the United States public domain on January 1st, 2024, as both Steamboat Willie and The Gallopin' Gaucho will be in the public domain on that date. Disney tried to avert it in court, but couldn’t get any more extensions. But it’s Disney and Mickey is still largely protected, so…it’s complicated.
      • Much like Oswald, Mickey and Minnie's post-1928 designs and voices will still be the copyright of Disney until those copyrights expire 96 years after publication.
  • Characters from the Superman Theatrical Cartoons that didn't come from DC Comics, such as The Mad Scientist and the Metal Monsters.
  • Bert the Turtle, similarly to Private Snafu, was never copyrighted at all as it was created under the supervision of the US government.
  • The ghostly Wily Walrus and other strange spooks from Minnie the Moocher.

Media that uses many public domain characters

    Anime and Manga 
  • Sgt. Frog: Grays type aliens, Flatwood monsters and eventually Chupacabras all appear through the series.

    Comic Books 
A number of public domain Golden Age superhero characters have been reused by more recent publishers:
  • In the 1980s, Eclipse Comics revived 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 Face–Heel Turn. He originally intended to use obscure Marvel Comics 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, Alan Moore revived Nedor Comics characters in the Tom Strong 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 Project Superpowers. 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, Image Comics 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 Affectionate Parody, with 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 The Savage Dragon. 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' 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 Kenneth Hite, a Tabletop RPG supplement published in multiple versions with game details for different rule systems. The conceit of this work was that in a parallel universe, H. P. Lovecraft 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 Cosmic Horror/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 Charlton Comics (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 Immortal Iron Fist as 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 The Shadow Hero 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.
  • Jack Staff 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 no longer explicitly named as "the Spider". All the comic's many subsequent revivals of characters from older British comics were Captains Ersatz.
  • A non-superhero one, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen brings together many Victorian and Edwardian literary characters (although, as it moves through the 20th century in later volumes, it increasingly features Lawyer-Friendly Cameos of characters who are in copyright).

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Dracula is mentioned, and he appears in the sequel, Ghosts of the Past, as part of the Big Bad Ensemble, being the Arc Villain of Bloody Hell.
    • King Arthur, Merlin, and the rest of the Knights of the Round Table (heavily influenced, if not outright based on the Merlin (2008) version, though with some significant mythic twists).
  • Life After Hayate has an In-Universe 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".

  • Anno Dracula: What if Dracula was real, and Mycroft Holmes was running the response team? And that's just the start...
  • The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids features H.G. Wells's Martians as a recurring background element, has given guest appearances to Sherlock Holmes and most of the classic Monster Mash, regularly features Jenny Everywhere, and more.
  • There are many "Sherlock Holmes versus..." novels that pit him against Dracula, Mr Hyde, Cthulhu, or other public domain monsters.
  • Extraordinary Adventures Of The Athena Club has this in spades, drawing characters from a lot of Victorian literature including Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Camilla, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Frankenstien and more.
  • Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!: Uses Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, Cthugha, the Burning One, Hastur, the Unspeakable One, and other Moe Anthropomorphism versions of monstrosities from the Cthulhu Mythos as its main characters.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Secrets of Isis has the goddess of Egyptian Mythology as the title character. Considering the series is spin-off of the TV adaptation of Shazam! (1974), DC Comics was eventually able to adapt her into the The DCU with relatively little modification to be the wife of Black Adam.
  • Penny Dreadful utilizes multiple characters from 19th century Victorian literature for a story between a band of adventurers and misfits fighting Satan and his disciples.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Adventures Into Darkness: The conceit of this work is that, in a parallel universe, H. P. Lovecraft 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. The result it's a Cosmic Horror/Golden Age comics setting book with Lovecraftian and Nedorian elements.
  • In Nomine: While many characters are original creations for the setting, many others are derived from the public domain. Some come from scripture, several demons originate from medieval occultism, and a few come from more recent sources — the angel Israfel comes from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, for instance.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novel 



Video Example(s):


Sherlock Martin

Martin wakes up as the great detective Sherlock Martin.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / SherlockHomage

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