In 1974 the 1946 movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” fell into public domain because the studio failed to renew it’s copyright. As a result, it was aired a lot, which explains why it became so popular even though it flopped in theaters. The studio got rights to the movie again in 1993.
Even though Benjamin Franklin is credited with many popular inventions, he never patented or copyrighted any of them. He believed that they should be given freely and that claiming ownership would only cause trouble and “sour one’s Temper and disturb one’s Quiet.”
In 2016, ‘Getty Images’ sold some of the 100,000+ photos that had been donated, royalty-free, to the Library of Congress by the original photographer and Getty Images then demanded payment from the photographer, for using the photos she owned. She sued them (unsuccessfully) for over $1 billion.
The people who falsely claimed the copyright to “Happy Birthday to You” made $2M a year for decades until the song was ruled public domain.
UK prop designer Andrew Ainsworth, made the original Stormtrooper helmets, was sued by Lucasfilm for $20m for making and selling replicas, argued he did not hold the intellectual property rights, a point upheld by a US court. After spending £700,000 defending himself, Ainsworth won.
The trollface meme “(Problem?)” is copyrighted. At the meme’s height, when it was plastered on t-shirts the creator would would pull in between $10,000 and $15,000 every few months.
“Peter Pan” is the only UK copyright which has been extended in perpetuity, meaning Great Ormond Street Hospital can receive royalties forever. This has earned it the name “The Copyright which never grows up”.
There is no place you can legally watch and listen to the entire “I Have a Dream” speech for free, as the recording is owned and licensed by the EMI Publishing and the King Family. The only way to legally watch the speech in it’s entirety is to buy a copy.
Disney successfully lobbied Congress to extend the length of copyright protection in order to prevent Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain. The law was later referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.
In 1996 ASCAP threatened Girl Scouts of America for singing campfire songs without paying licensing fees.