Is Betty Boop in the Public Domain?

Betty Boop was the first sex symbol of the animated screen.   Her large eyes, short dress and exposed garter belt crossed new boundaries for the time era.  She was that confluence of sexy in an innocent way.

Nimia was recently asked whether the copyright in Betty Boop is part of the Public Domain?

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 11.02.13 AM

Like any good legal question, the correct answer is: “it depends”.  The answer depends on which Betty Boop shows/movies you are asking about.   Between 1932 and 1939 the creators of Betty Boop, Fleischer Studios, created 90 films.  The ownership of some of the films changed hands and a number of the Betty Boop films failed to re-register the copyright (U.S. copyright law was different in the 1930’s than it is today). Some of the Betty Boop films fell into the Public Domain, while others retained their copyright.  Nimia licenses eight Betty Boop clips for commercial use and Internet Archives hosts 22 films that are all in the public domain.  The other Betty Boop films’ copyrights are active and our initial question, is Betty Boop in the Public Domain, can be answered either yes or no, depending on the particular Betty Boop film you are inquiring about.

Sometimes intellectual property owners try to assert control via means other than copyright ownership.  Recently, the owners of the Betty Boop trademark sued a company that was using the Betty Boop image for commercial purposes.  The owners claimed the commercial use of Betty Boop violated their registered trademark.   The Ninth Circuit concluded that allowing the owner to assert a trademark infringement claim would prevent the Betty Boop character from ever entering the public domain and would run afoul of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23 (2003).


The Nimia Legal team is here to help you get more out of your legal contracts.  In your next production contract consider requesting a license back clause to the contract, and/or consider using Nimia’s Standard Production Contract.  A license back clause allows your client to own the copyright and allows you to have certain rights to the footage that you produced.   If you’d like, Nimia can have an attorney represent your interests in the contract negotiation stage. Nimia handles media rights clearance, the negotiation and preparation of media licenses, film rights, publishing, rights of publicity, non-disclosure agreements, employee agreements, and work for hire agreements.

Eric J. Harrison, Esq. is a registered attorney licensed to practice in Washington state. By accessing and reading this blog, you acknowledge and understand that no attorney-client relationship has been formed and you further acknowledge and understand that this blog is not intended to constitute legal advice. Legal advice and counsel requires a fact-specific analysis of your particular issues, and you should thus obtain legal advice directly and individually from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction, if appropriate.