Whitmore Lake, MI asked in Copyright, Business Law and Trademark for Michigan

Q: If something isn't properly copyrighted or trademarked can it end up in the Public Domain?

The 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" wasn't properly trademarked due to an error and ended up in the Public Domain. Various Comic book Characters from the Golden Age of Comics in the 1930s and 1940s also entered the public domain when their publishers went out of business. I just wanted to know if something isn't properly copyright protected then does it just fall into the public domain? Like if a now defunct Toy Company made a toy in the 1980s and no other company picked up the property does that toy fall under the public domain?

1 Lawyer Answer
Michael Zamzow
Michael Zamzow
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: First, be generally aware there is a difference between 'registered' copyrighted works, works protected by copyright, and works with expired copyright protections, and 'works' without copyright protection.

Second, intellectual property is quite a bit like any other type of property. When a company goes out of business, the property that was once titled to the company will be titled to another person (entity or real).

Consult with an intellectual property attorney before stepping into a potentially infringing activity. Such a lawyer might be able to find the true owner and buy the rights.

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