Can You Make Money With Public Domain Movies?

When most people think of works that are in the public domain, they usually think of books or other printed items such as sheet music and old magazines. They might be surprised to find that there are Hollywood movies, cartoons, old TV shows and tons of educational and instructional films in the public domain as well.

More and more of these copyright-free films are showing up both on- and off-line.

You might have seen some of these films and TV shows selling for as little as a dollar each in your local Target or at from a stand near the checkout line of your favorite supermarket.

Numerous sites have sprung up on the Internet where you can download movies for free or cheap. This is entirely legal to download since any copyright these works might have had (and some never had any) has expired.

It might seem that with so many public domain movies becoming available at practically no cost, there would be little or no profit to a would-be entrepreneur wanting to make money in this field. Not so.

Ever see that classic–and unintentionally hilarious–”Duck and Cover” film, which told schoolkids in the 1950s how to survive an atomic bomb simply by crawling under their desks? Since it was made at taxpayer expense, “Duck and Cover” is in the public domain. (Works of the U.S. government are excluded from copyright law and therefore are considered to be in the public domain.)

The thing is, there are probably hundreds or thousands of government or industrial films with a “camp” appeal similar to “Duck and Cover,” and that could be made available, either on DVD or as a download. Your challenge: Repackage these films and present them in such a way that people will be glad to pay you to view them.

The Library of Congress, through its “American Memory” site, has started putting old films online. It’s a good bet that many people don’t know this, so someone–maybe you?– could grab some of them and find a creative way to repackage and sell them.

There are other online archives of PD films as well; just do a search for “public domain movies” and see what you can find. Especially recommended: the “moving images” section of the site. You will be astounded at what you can find there, and most of it is free to re-use as you like.

In my opinion, one of the biggest growth areas for public domain video publishing right now is in making this content available for the iPod. The new generation of video iPods has taken the world by storm. Entrepreneurs who jump into the business of converting movies (both public domain and commercial) into iPod format stand to make a bundle over the coming months.

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H. Tim Sevets is books editor for the Solid Gold Info Writers Consortium, where he specializes in objective reviews of the top money-making reports available over the Web. Recently, he reviewed an e-book shows how to make money by tearing up old books and magazines and selling them on eBay. Read his opinion at

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