Monday, February 10, 2014

Can I Make Poster From House on Haunted Hill Movie?

Dear Rich: I run a poster production company that specializes in limited edition, studio licensed film and entertainment posters. I would like to know that if a film is public domain, does that mean you can create merchandising products for the particular movie? One title in particular is "House on Haunted Hill"(1959). We are fans of the film and saw that they failed to renew the copyright. We have contacted the the one who handles the estate for the lead actor in the movie, which is Vincent Price, and we have obtained permission to use his likeness rights in the poster for a fee. Besides his likeness, we also want to have a credit block on the bottom of the poster (which is at the bottom of movie posters that contain actors names, writers, directors, producers, etc. -- also known as a billing block). So does this mean we can go ahead and make the poster, or are their any other things we may have to do first? No more permissions are necessary -- you're good to go. By obtaining rights from Vincent Price's estate, you've avoided any potential right of publicity claims. As for the attribution in the billing block, that will not trigger rights of publicity or trademark claims. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that attribution is not required with public domain films. We can't say for sure whether other merchandising efforts require permission, but, assuming your permission from Price's estate covers the use (and assuming your products don't create confusion with the movie's remake), they should be fine.
P.S. One advantage of exploiting the House on Haunted Hill is that it's based on an original screenplay, not a book, and therefore you avoid the hassles that plague some other public domain films (scroll to "Subsequent History").