There's an extensive selection of public domain feature films available, but video quality is universally extremely poor as users generally prefer low filesize over high bitrate. Some of the films ("Night of the Living Dead", Charlie Chaplin catalogue and Christopher Lee's "Horror Express" as notable examples) have been released on Blu-ray. Is it allowed to create a lossless copy of a Blu-ray disc and spread the film all over the Internet as a video file? I won't share "extras" (commentary tracks, making of documentaries) which may have been created and owned by the publisher, subtitles, menus and foreign or alternative audio tracks to avoid legal issues.

I don't know if all Blu-ray discs and DVDs have DRM (circumventing may be allowed under some jurisdictions) — DRM is out of the scope of the question as it is uncertain if restricting material free of intellectual property rights is in turn legal.

3 Answers 3


In the US () copyright protection is only afforded to work with at least a minimal degree of originality, as was held in Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), (see also the actual text of the decision) The Court's decision included the statement that "The sine qua non of copyright is originality."

Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) established that "slavish copying" does not produce an original work, and the results are not protected by copyright in the US. (A number of other countries have since followed the same logic.) "Slavish copying" is any process, however technically complex or laborious, that produces or attempts to produce an exact reproduction of the original, or as near to an exact reproduction as the medium and technology allows. Such copies are often in a different medium than the original source.

Therefore, an exact or designedly exact conversion of a work to another medium does not produce an original work, and no separate copyright attaches. If the original work is not under copyright, neither is the converted copy.

Additions to the copy, such a a menu, or added captions, may be protected by copyright. But a further copy taken from the enhanced copy but not including any of the enhancements or additions will not infringe such a copyright, and will not be an infringement of any copyright if the original source was out of copyright.

Reconstruction of a damaged work that attempts to restore it as exactly as possible similarly does not create a new copyright, because this is not considered an original work either.

In short, if a film is out of copyright (aka "in the public domain") a Blu-Ray version has no new copyright on the images or sound track. Additions may be protected, but a copy of the disk that omits all such additions will not infringe.

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    This answer has received a downvote with no explanation at all. If someone thinks that it is incorrect or incomplete, I would like to know why, so that I could improve it. Multiple sources are already cited. Nov 29, 2020 at 15:02

It is probably not legal, since the Blu-ray disc is likely to be protected by copyright. Prints of the original films could be in the public domain (for instance, Night of the Living Dead). However, a modicum of creativity is necessary to transfer the original film to DVD, and that is all that is required to make the DVD protected by copyright.

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    Do you have a source for this? In general, "slavish copying" (generally interpreted as making a best-effort attempt to re-create the original work in a new medium) does not attract a new copyright. Something like a pan-and-scan adjustment to adapt to a new aspect ratio would be sufficiently creative to be copyrighted, but things like letterboxing or dynamic-range adjustment aren't.
    – Mark
    Jan 18, 2018 at 4:16
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    I'm not talking about slavish plug and chug copy, I'm referring to the relatively hi-tech reconstruction work done to clean up old audio and video. Blu-ray typically implies better quality that plug and chug copying.
    – user6726
    Jan 18, 2018 at 5:27
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    Reconstruction work doesn't create copyright in the United States (it might in countries with a "sweat of the brow" copyright doctrine). The amount of effort involved doesn't matter, only the amount of creativity, and attempting to reconstruct a work as it was originally published is not a creative effort.
    – Mark
    Jan 18, 2018 at 9:01
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    If @Mark has any sources for that...? That said, I am under the same impression that a reproduction doesn't generate new copyright.
    – Stackstuck
    Jan 18, 2018 at 18:47
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    @user6726 is correct about the copyright, but it's not because the movie was remastered, it's because they added the menu screen etc etc. Listen to what he has said and just use clips from the original movie and not the DVD version.
    – Putvi
    Oct 28, 2019 at 18:58

"However, a modicum of creativity is necessary to transfer the original film to DVD, and that is all that is required to make the DVD protected by copyright."

False. All movies are completely legal to copy in which the image and soundtrack are in the public domain. It does not matter what work was done restoring a pd movie, since it is pd to begin with. It does not matter if the disc is protected. If ONLY the film itself is copied, it is completely legal. Not the logos, artwork or anything else, which would be copyrighted. Just the pd material alone. Unless the movie has SIGNIFICANT change to the story, restoration or copy protection does change this status. Public domain means just as it sounds. It belongs to everyone in this country. It is legal to copy that material, from any media since that does not belong to any one individual or business. The copyright office will give you the same response. Period.

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    This answer appears to assume that "in the public domain" is a legal concept, but that's not how the law is written. "Public Domain" is a shorthand for "not covered under copyright" but the exact boundaries are fuzzy. For instance, it's ambiguous if the public domain contains works that by their nature aren't copyright-able, such as facts and fragrances.
    – MSalters
    Oct 28, 2019 at 14:23
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    – isakbob
    Oct 29, 2019 at 18:54

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