I was just about to add one more episode of The Andy Griffith Show, you know, the ones that everyone thinks are public domain; but then I learned that these aren’t public domain at all!
For years, folks assumed that episodes 80 through 95 of The Andy Griffith Show were public domain. The reason was, back in March of 1997, Paramount Pictures Corporation submitted copyright renewal applications to the US Copyright Office for these particular episodes (among others), but they were rejected for being late. Basically, the Copyright Office told Paramount that since the shows were published in 1963, that they missed the December 31, 1991 deadline.
The following are The Andy Griffith Show episodes in question:
- Episode 80 - “High Noon in Mayberry”
- Episode 81 - “The Loaded Goat”
- Episode 82 - “Class Reunion”
- Episode 83 - “Rafe Hollister Sings”
- Episode 84 - “Opie and the Spoiled Kid”
- Episode 85 - “The Great Filling Station Robbery”
- Episode 86 - “Andy Discovers America”
- Episode 87 - “Aunt Bee’s Medicine Man”
- Episode 88 - “The Darlings are Coming”
- Episode 89 - “Andy’s English Valet”
- Episode 90 - “Barney’s First Car”
- Episode 91 - “The Rivals”
- Episode 92 - “A Wife for Andy”
- Episode 93 - “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs"
- Episode 94 - “Mountain Wedding”
- Episode 95 - “The Big House”
The funny thing is I was certain that these were legally public domain because of the renewal issue and also because they were so widely available for free download. Heck, many years ago I even bought DVD’s at Walmart containing some of these episodes and none were by CBS, Viacom, or Paramount!
The DVD’s that I have were distributed by Digiview Productions LLC and Platinum Disc LLC. The only odd thing was that the original theme song was changed in each show. This I figured was still under copyright.
Come to find out, in 2006, Reel Media International was sued by CBS Operations Inc. for copyright infringement regarding the unauthorized sale, distribution, and/or licensing of episodes 80 through 95 of The Andy Griffith Show. It was argued that, even though the copyright renewal applications were rejected in 1997, that these were derivative works of the 79 shows that came before them (whose copyrights were renewed and in effect) and that the characters, consistent within these works were so distinctive that they themselves could be copyrightable (i.e. Sheriff Taylor, Barney, etc.). In the eyes of CBS, the 16 episodes in question were protected and they won.
Now, fast forward ten years. In 2016, CBS sued an individual and his organization for copyright infringement after uploading the same 16 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show to Youtube.
In this lawsuit CBS claimed that only the “newly-added elements” of each episode, 80 through 95, are in the public domain. The reason being, that only the newly-added stuff was not derivative of the previous 79 episodes still under copyright protection, and that the characters consistent within each episode are derivative and “independently copyrightable elements” of the show.
If you were to remove everything from any episode of The Andy Griffith Show that wasn’t a newly-added element, then you’d basically be left with nothing; and that’s the only thing public domain about The Andy Griffith Show – nothing!
CBS appears to have won this case too as the show has been removed from the Youtuber’s channel (8thManDVDcom).
Keep in mind that the defendants in both the 2006 and the 2016 lawsuits were capitalizing on these 16 episodes and possibly generating significant amounts of revenue from them.
This all goes to show you how iffy this public domain movie business can be. What should be very straight-forward and clear, is cloudy and depends on ones interpretation of the law. Only copyright claimants, lawyers, and judges seem to be able to get the “truth” in an area where the US Copyright Office won’t even go.