Updated on June 14, 2022
I wrote last year about what cartoons should’ve entered public domain in 2016. I also explained the various reasons why this isn’t the case; to quote part of my own post:
Since said copyright extensions retroactively apply to previous materials, it’s prevented the United States from getting to enjoy “Public Domain Day,” better known as New Year’s Day. Nothing new is projected to enter the public domain in the US until 2019, barring more Congressional extensions.
For more on Public Domain Day and some of the materials still withheld from public domain, see this article.
Under the copyright laws that existed from 1909 through 1978, works could be copyrighted for a single 28 year term, with one 28 year renewal allowed, or a total of 56 years. This was deemed sufficient for most of the 20th century. It also allowed for the creation of a large amount of the entertainment we still enjoy today.
If we’d still had the above copyright terms, we’d see media created in 1960 entering the public domain as of January 1, 2017. Instead, the copyright extensions in the 70s and 90s retroactively extended everything copyrighted between 1923 and 1977 to a 95-year term. Thus, the earliest date for anything new entering public domain is in 2019.
Below’s a list of comics and animated material that would’ve entered public domain as of now.
Wikipedia has a list of noteworthy comics in 1960.
- The Atomic Knights
- Captain Boomerang
- Cave Carson
- The Clock King
- The Justice League of America, including the following related characters:
- Snapper Carr
- Professor Ivo
- Xotar, the Weapons Master
- The Elongated Man
- The Guardians of the Universe
- Thomas Kalmaku
- The Kryptonite Kid
- The Sea Devils
- The Trickster
- Streaky the Super-Cat
- Groot (Groot was originally a one-shot monster character in a 1960 Marvel story. He was later revamped and used in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”)
- Captain Atom (Charlton Comics’ version)
Wikipedia has a list of noteworthy animated cartoons in 1960.
The famous Hanna-Barbera series debuted on ABC in 1960.
The first season featured Fred, Barney, Betty, and Wilma. Their offspring, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm, didn’t appear until later in the show’s run. Thus, they wouldn’t go into the public domain until a few years later. The same goes for the famous “Meet the Flintstones” theme song; the first few seasons had a different opening.
King Leonardo and His Short Subjects (aka The King and Odie)
“King Leonardo” was Total Television’s first TV show. Their most famous production was “Underdog.” Characters include:
- King Leonardo, a lion who’s the cranky ruler of the fictional African country of “Bongo Congo” (whose export was bongo drums).
- Odie Cologne, a skunk who’s the King’s competent and patient prime minister.
- The Hunter, a Foghorn Leghorn-like bumbling canine detective.
- Tooter Turtle, a bumbling turtle that keeps trying new jobs, to disaster.
A 15-minute syndicated version, “The King and Odie,” was also released.
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse
A superhero series that aired in syndication. Created by Bob Kane (credited “creator” of Batman, though Bill Finger did the bulk of the work), it starred a cat and mouse crimefighting duo, similar to Batman and Robin.
The above makes for quite a long and famous list of material. But of course, nobody but Time Warner’s legally allowed to write and profit from a story about 20th century-style cavemen named Fred and Barney. That, or a team of superheroes named the “JLA” featuring Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. At least, not until 2056, when under current laws, all of the above will enter public domain. Assuming that there isn’t another copyright extension in the meantime.
Image from “The Flintstones.” (Warner Bros.)