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It is difficult to determine the public domain status of a film because it can incorporate any or all of the following copyrightable elements: Experts in the field of public domain sometimes differ in their opinions as to whether a particular film is in the public domain.
The use of music in a film can cause uncertainty with regard to copyright.
In some cases, a film’s copyright has lapsed because of non-renewal while the underlying literary or dramatic source is still protected by copyright.
For example, the movie His Girl Friday (1940) became a public domain film in 1969 because it was not renewed, but it is based on the 1928 play The Front Page, which is still under copyright until 2024 and thus as a practical matter the film cannot be used without permission. Originally completed in 1959 under the title The Black Door or The Head that Wouldn't Die, it was not released until May 3, 1962 where failure to add the copyright notice resulted in the film entering the public domain.
All copyright registrations from 1978 onward are online at the Library of Congress website.