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Remember that recent post about copyright laws in the US? I briefly mentioned something called public domain. Public domain is what happens when copyrighted works expire. Sometimes they expire because the term has run out; sometimes they expire because they aren’t renewed. In any case, when the copyright expires – it is available for anyone and everyone that wants to use it.
I spend a lot of time on the blog letting readers know what you cannot use due to copyright and trademark laws. Today, I thought I’d take a few minutes and give you a list of characters that you can use – legally and freely.
8 Characters in the Public Domain that Crafters Can Use
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You can freely use text quotes and character illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To be clear: Disney also has an Alice in Wonderland which is protected by copyright laws. You would not be able to use Disney’s interpretation of the story. There are many differences between the original story and Disney’s take on it. For example, the famous line by the White Rabbit “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!” is actually “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” in the original story. I’d be able to create a wood sign legally with the “Oh dear!” line but not the “I’m late!” line.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is in the public domain. However, The Wizard of Oz film starring Judy Garland is not in the public domain. This means that you would be able to use quotes and images from the original book, but not from the movie. Like Alice, there are differences between the original book written in 1900 and the film from 1939.
- The Little Mermaid. It’s no secret that mermaids are trendy right now, so take advantage of being able to use The Little Mermaid story by Hans Christian Andersen. Be sure to read the original story though – the mermaid has no name and doesn’t have underwater friends like Sebastian and Flounder. You probably won’t be surprised that the original tale varies greatly from the Disney version. If you don’t know, Andersen is responsible for many, many fairy tales that you are probably know. Better yet? The majority of them are in the public domain.
- Rapunzel, Snow White, and Cinderella. These stories were recorded by the Brothers Grimm. The stories existed long before the Grimms recorded them, being integral parts of German folklore. They are now in the public domain and can be used freely. Of course, you can’t use the Disney’s retelling of the stories. If you are curious, the Brothers Grimm are also responsible for recording many other stories.
- Aladdin, Sinbad, and the Hunchback. Are you seeing a trend here? A trend related to the Walt Disney Company? Many of Disney’s famous tales and works are the retelling and reimagining of stories of the past. Aladdin, Sinbad, and the Hunchback are all tales from a book called One Thousand and One Nights. You would be able to use the characters as they are portrayed in the original story – but not the Disney versions.
- Ebeneezer Scrooge. Ebeneezer Scrooge from the classic Christmas story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, is in the public domain. This means you could make Scrooge themed products or use quotes from the book in handmade products. Personally, I think Scrooge related products are perfect to sell around Christmas. Of course, you’ll need to take inspiration from the original story, not one of the many retellings.
- Classic Monsters. Any horror genre fans around? If so, good news for you: many of the classic monsters are in the public domain. These include Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein’s Monster, Phantom of the Opera, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Bride of Frankenstein’s Monster. Of course, you can’t use modern day adaptations of the story, but you can use your take on the original stories and characters.
- Sherlock Holmes. Some of the stories related to Sherlock Holmes are in the public domain. Although, the estate of the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has tried to impose licensing fees on those that use the characters. Read more about the rather lengthy trials related to Sherlock Holmes at this link.
Commercial Use Allowed
My favorite thing about material in the public domain? You can use it for whatever – including commercial use! This means if you want to sell products with public domain works, you can!
Find Other Characters in the Public Domain
Wondering about a specific character and the status of them in relation to the public domain? You can start your research about a specific character by searching for ‘Name of character’ + ‘Public domain’. This will lead you to resources to start your own research. A good rule of thumb is that characters from stories written before 1923 are often in the public domain.