Night of the Living Dead: A (Public Domain) Night to Remember

George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) isn't just a cult classic of the horror genre, it's also a fascinating case study in copyright law. Unlike most movies made in the late 60s, Night of the Living Dead resides in the public domain, meaning anyone can copy, distribute, edit, or even remake the film without permission or paying royalties. But how did this iconic piece of cinema end up freely available for all?

Blame it on a missing "c". During the film's initial release, the distributor accidentally omitted the copyright notice from the prints. Back then, in the US, a published work required a proper copyright notice to be protected. This seemingly minor oversight by the distributor had a major consequence - Night of the Living Dead entered the public domain, free for anyone to use.

The irony is delicious. A film that established the modern zombie as a flesh-eating menace, itself became uncopyrighted and vulnerable to its own kind of "infection." Numerous sequels, remakes, and homages have been spawned from Night of the Living Dead, all thanks to its public domain status.

While Romero and his collaborators may have lost out on potential financial gains, the film's public domain status has arguably benefited the horror genre as a whole. The free availability of the film allowed countless filmmakers to reimagine and reinterpret the zombie concept, leading to a diverse and ever-evolving genre landscape.

So, the next time you watch Night of the Living Dead, remember the bizarre twist of fate that made it a public domain icon. It's a testament to the film's enduring power that it continues to thrive and inspire, even without the traditional copyright protections.