I wanted to ask whether it is legal to screen publicly Chaplin's The Kid (1921). In US according to Wikipedia, all movies made before 1923 are in the public domain. In UK I think the srory is different and the copyright lasts for the author's lifetime + 70 years. Charlie Chaplin was born in London, but spent most of his movie making years in US. Wiki says that The Kid was made by Chaplin (directed and produced) in his studio in US. So which copyright law is in power here, US or UK?

I would think that in this case US law is in power as the movie was made in US under a contract with US distributor, and thus the movie is in the public domain but then there is this company which claims it owns copyright to all movies made by Chaplin after 1918. So who is right and what are the ways to find out. US copyright registry is digitized only for the period after 1978 :(

  • 2
    Where is "here"? Are you in the UK? If you are displaying the movie in the UK, UK law applies.
    – phoog
    Feb 3, 2016 at 19:09

3 Answers 3


I think it is probably public domain.

I would suggest contacting Jon Mulvaney at the Criterion Collection. They recently remastered "The Kid" and will know all about the rights for public showings. Also, if you want to show their remastered version, which is very high quality, they can explain the process.


True that you should operate under the laws of the country you are in HOWEVER, the Berne Convention (essentially a contract between countries asking each other to respect each other's copyright laws to an extent) advises that the copyright laws of other signatory countries do not extend the life of copyright in a work that has expired in it's country of origin. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berne_Convention#Copyright_term)

In normal speak.... If the content is out of copyright in its country of origin, it is out of copyright everywhere. Our local laws do not have the power to bring something back into copyright.

  • But the article to which you link says that not all countries have accepted that rule. Perhaps the UK is one of them.
    – phoog
    Feb 3, 2016 at 19:09
  • 1
    @phoog there are less than 10 countries that are not signatories to the Berne Convention and they are mostly "pariah" states like North Korea: the UK definitely has signed as has the US.
    – Dale M
    Apr 3, 2016 at 7:29
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    @DaleM the Wikipedia article seems to say that not all countries that have signed the Berne Convention have accepted the rule. Granted, Wikipedia articles are not always well written, but if it is true then the fact that the UK has signed doesn't imply that they've accepted the rule.
    – phoog
    Apr 12, 2016 at 23:49
  • @Dale The US does not accept the "rule of the shorter term". If one files a copyright suit in a US court, US law on the duration of the copyright applies, be it shorter or longer than the term in the source country. I think the UK has accepted the rule, but I am not sure of that. May 4, 2021 at 5:37

If you decided to move to Hungary, for example, then you would have to obey Hungarian copyright law while you are in that country. If what you do is legal according to Hungarian law, it's fine, if not, you can be sued in Hungary.

Similar, US copyright matters to you if you are in the USA. If a work was created in the UK, and you do something in the USA that is illegal according to US copyright law, but would be legal according to UK copyright law, then you can be sued. It doesn't matter where the work was created, and so on, just where you are and whether you breach the law in the country where you are.

And most copyright infringement is a civil matter, and a copyright holder in the UK might be less likely to sue you in the USA.

  • Thank you for your answer. Just to make sure I got you right, say I am in Russia where the law I believe says that ANY movie that was released 70 years ago is public domain. Does it mean that regardless of the copyright being owned by someone in another country, I can screen it in Russia?
    – ivanibash
    Jan 31, 2016 at 19:39

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