Many public domain movies can be found on Internet Archive. Some movies were never copyrighted in the first place (sometimes by mistake, like Night of the Living Dead). But others may still be copyrighted.
Be careful that even though the site tries to remove inappropriate content (like Actor’s and Sin), some of the movies uploaded by users are not in public domain and thus illegal to download and redistribute. For example, Metropolis is copyrighted in US, while you can still find it on Internet Archive.
You can check an incomplete list of public domain movies in US here.
There is an interesting blog post about best movies on the site which is a good start. It also contains extensive discussion of public domain / copyright issues in the comments section.
- # of free movies: around 2000
There are 8000+ movies on Internet Archive, but some of them are short films or duplicated. So we select 2000 full-length films from its database for analysis.
- Uniqueness: 80%
We define it as the percentage of movies not available as free on other sites.
- Vintage and quality distribution: see charts below
We use the rating on IMDb as a measure of quality, and the votes on IMDb as a measure of popularity. The result will differ from data on other sites like RottenTomatoes, but it still provides good evaluation of the whole collection.
Several observations from the charts:
- The year distribution concentrates on the period between 1930 and 1950 (about two thirds). Here is one possible explanation:
In Copyright Act of 1909, the copyright had term of 28 years, and many movies entered public domain because they failed to renew. Later in Copyright Act of 1976, the term was extended to either 75 years or life of author plus 50 years. Then Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 removed the requirement for renewal at all. So it takes much longer for the copyright of a movie to expire now.
Also, because of the new term, many movie studios restore the copyright of some old movies which were in public domain before. One example is Metropolis we mentioned above.
- One interesting thing is rate distribution. Although the distribution of all movies are common (with rating 6.x as the peak), the ratings of popular titles are much higher, and many of them are classic ones.
For example, Bicycle Thieves won Honorary Awards (which is later known as ‘Best Foreign Language Film’) from the Academy. There are also several movies in IMDb Top 250.
Here is a list of some high rated movies:
|Man with a Movie Camera||1929||8.3|
|Anatomy of a Murder||1959||8.1|
|The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari||1921||8.1|
|The Lady Vanishes||1938||8.1|
|My Man Godfrey||1936||8.1|
|Stairway to Heaven||1946||8.1|
|Night of the Living Dead||1968||8|
|His Girl Friday||1940||8|
|The 39 Steps||1935||7.9|
Internet Archive is a good source of public domain movies which can be downloaded (while other streaming sites explicitly disallow download in their user agreements due to license limitation) and it has many classic movies with high quality.