Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

General Discussions, Polls, Lists, Video Clips and Links
AV Forum Member
AV Forum Member
Posts: 8417
Joined: October 25th, 2004
Location: Binghamton, NY

Re: Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

Post by ShyViolet » May 4th, 2020, 12:27 am

Wow, that is complicated! Thanks, I find this really interesting. :)

Once something lapses into PD, it cannot be reclaimed by anyone. Warner did some cleanup and released the shorts on DVD, but anyone with access to prints could have done so. I don't recall which material Warner had on hand to use.
Ahh OK that makes sense. Because I remember both cleaned-up WB Fleischer Supes DVDs coming out that year, while at the same time the five dollar bargain bin ones with Supes shorts bundled with like a thousand other random cartoons. Glad I understand it now. :)
You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!

User avatar
AV Founder
AV Founder
Posts: 20485
Joined: October 22nd, 2004
Location: London, UK

Re: Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

Post by Ben » May 4th, 2020, 5:33 am

The Popeye movie originated with Paramount, but they went to Disney because they "knew animation"...! In a co-pro deal that was quite a trend in Hollywood at the time, Paramount - who then still had their film rights to the character - got US distribution (and home video) while Disney took international (including home video). So it’s on DVD in America from Paramount, but Disney everywhere else. In fact, importing the US DVD finally gave me a chance to see the "uncut" original version - internationally we got a shortened version with several changes, although like with The Muppet Movie I think the version on all discs now is just the US version.

With the Fleischer Supermans, I understand that Warners own the physical negatives to those cartoons, so could theoretically put out the best looking set. But because anyone with prints can do the same (and do) they don’t see the financial advantage to cleaning them up. And there's the rub + remember those awful WinStar DVDs that added "new and improved" (read awful and imposing) sound effects to their releases? That was an attempt to create "new" versions that they could then claim copyright on, since their contained new elements.

As preservationists, Warners would not want to tamper with the original films in that way, but if they did clean them up they could still add a new element, maybe like an unobtrusive opening ident that plays before each cartoon, and still claim those versions were under their protection. Apart from that, everyone would just buy those versions because they would clearly be the best presentations available and Warner could then argue their rights pertained to the transfer and cleanup work, so again people couldn’t just rip the discs and make their own versions.

Having dealt with copyrights for many years for use in clips and stills, it is an absolute minefield, and there is rarely if ever just one single source or a simple solution to a copyright issue. That’s why many bigger companies are consolidating and buying up smaller ones, not only so as to try and bring many of these copyrights together, but also to provide the heft and might behind those copyrights to dissuade those that might try to infringe against them...even if there is a valid claim to do so!

AV Forum Member
AV Forum Member
Posts: 8417
Joined: October 25th, 2004
Location: Binghamton, NY

Re: Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

Post by ShyViolet » May 8th, 2020, 7:47 am

Speaking of copyrights, that must have been ONE HECK of a job for Disney to borrow so many non-Disney characters to appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit...interesting how the minutiae of this topic is hardly ever discussed. I think all I’ve ever read on it is that when Mickey and Bugs appeared in the film they each had to have exact same amount of screen time (hence why they shared a scene) and the exact amount of dialogue, right down to the word count. (Ditto for Daffy and Donald.)

I realize that by far the biggest reason the film itself was so costly was the never-before-attempted realism and detail of the animation/live-action SFX, but was paying copyright fees to all these different parent companies (Warner Bros, etc...) also a factor in the skyrocketing budget? (I mean how complicated must it have been to secure permission for all those different characters to appear together in that crowd after Judge Doom’s melting in Dip? :shock:)

(Betty Boop has that scene with Eddie Valiant in the Ink and Paint Club of course. Since some of her shorts are PD but others are not, how did Disney work out having her character appear? Also I can’t remember who owns Woody Woodpecker or if he’s PD or not.)

Still so weird that a classic Disney film actually ended with Porky Pig telling the audience: “That’s all, folks!” Lol. :)
You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!

AV Founder
AV Founder
Posts: 5977
Joined: October 23rd, 2004
Location: SaskaTOON, Canada

Re: Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

Post by Randall » May 8th, 2020, 9:39 am

Betty Boop is also complicated! The rights went from Fleischer to Paramount to Harvey, to Classic Media; and King Features handles licensing as well. Carton Brew has a 2011 article about it. The fact that some of her cartoons are in PD does not mean that the character is. Same goes for Woody Woodpecker, who is controlled by Universal.

User avatar
AV Founder
AV Founder
Posts: 20485
Joined: October 22nd, 2004
Location: London, UK

Re: Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

Post by Ben » May 8th, 2020, 4:50 pm

You have to remember that Roger Rabbit was made when no one had any interest in classic cartoons - ironically this was the film that actually kickstarted the revival of interest in those shorts!

So getting the use of the characters was pretty cheap, especially because this was where Spielberg came in: the Disney ones were free, naturally, but his connections to Warner Bros and Universal made it easier to get Bugs, Daffy, Woody, etc, again because there was no real interest in doing anything with them!

The ones that didn’t appear (Tom & Jerry, Popeye, etc) were precisely because they were not owned by corporations that they had any connections to: King Features and and MGM did not want to play ball and asked too much to license their characters, but for some reason it was felt worth it for Droopy and Betty for their moments.

But it’s true that Bugs/Mickey and Daffy/Donald both had it written in that they had the exact frame count, lines of dialogue, etc, which was Warners' stipulation for being able to use them, also hence why Toontown is largely populated by Disney supporting characters, which would be kind of recognisable but not steal the limelight from the big "stars".

The film ends with Porky in tribute to the most well-known cartoon shorts ending, but when Eisner saw the storyboards he decreed that "no Disney film is going to end with Looney Tunes ending!" and so Tinkerbell was added - she actually closes the film with her fairy dust after Porky's line, for the best of both. Even though Pan wasn’t released until six years after the 1947 setting of Roger Rabbit, I like to think that these characters were always around in Toontown waiting to be discovered! ;)

AV Forum Member
AV Forum Member
Posts: 8417
Joined: October 25th, 2004
Location: Binghamton, NY

Re: Why are some cartoon shorts “public domain”?

Post by ShyViolet » May 14th, 2020, 1:16 pm

The famous scene itself! :). (Probably my favorite in the entire film, next to the Judge Doom Toon reveal.)


https://youtu.be/XPIskxyT4lo

And yeah definitely agree on the Tink addition at the very end...reflects that wonderfully surreal feel of all our favorite characters actually living in the same world. :)
You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!

Post Reply