Copyright, Public Domain and Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats

I have always found copyright law pertaining to the public domain in the United States somewhat baffling. Public domain refers to works that are no longer protected by copyright and are thus considered part of the “public domain.” There are countless examples of television shows with all or some episodes in the public domain. These can be found on relatively cheap DVD sets from companies like Passport Entertainment, Timeless Media Group or Mill Creek Entertainment.

Episodes of many classic shows, like Bonanza, The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies, are public domain due to negligence. Their copyright status was never renewed. According to Cornell University’s Copyright Information Center, works (or television episodes) originally published (or broadcast) between 1923 and 1963 with a copyright notice are in the public domain only if the copyright was not renewed. If it was, those episodes are under copyright for 95 years after they were first broadcast. In the unlikely event that they were broadcast without a copyright notice, they are also in the public domain.

Works published between 1964 and 1977 with a notice are copyrighted for 95 years after their publication date. So imagine how confused I was when I was researching Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats yesterday and discovered that several episodes were released on DVD by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment in 2005 as part of TV Classic Westerns Volume 6 (alongside episodes of Frontier Doctor). Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats was originally broadcast by CBS during the 1966-1967 season.

Unless Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats was broadcast without a copyright notice — and I find it incredibly hard to believe that it was — it shouldn’t be in the public domain. That’s my understanding, at least. Frontier Doctor, on the other hand, was syndicated during the 1958-1959 season and thus could easily be in the public domain if its copyright wasn’t renewed. Of course, it’s possible I’m missing an important element in this equation and Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats is in the public domain. I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer.

Public domain is a good thing. Without it, many shows from the 1950s would never be released on DVD. I just wish it was clearer. As for Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats, the really strange thing is that the episodes released on DVD are in black and white despite the fact that the show was broadcast in color. Could the color episodes have been copyrighted while the black and white episodes aren’t? Or are the only available prints in black and white? Several people have asked me to write about Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats and I’d like to do just that. But without any color footage to present, I’m not sure I could do the show justice.

If anyone has access to color episodes of Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats, please let me know. Supposedly, several episodes were edited into a movie called The Far Out West. Perhaps copies of that are floating around. Or, maybe the 1966 CBS Fall Preview includes color footage of Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats. In any case, I don’t have access to any episodes of the series, including the black and white ones on DVD. But a lot of people seem to be interested in the show.

5 Comments

  • But a lot of people seem to be interested in the show.

    Something that still has me shaking my head in wonderment. This is one of the worst series I’ve ever watched, and I can imagine what a trial it was for Ann Sheridan, who died of cancer shortly afterward.

    I don’t know that much about what gets into the public domain and what doesn’t, so I enjoyed reading the info you provided–particularly narrowing down the dates and all. As to Petticoats’ curious black & white status, could it be similar to the last season of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, which was also filmed in color but many of the “public domain” prints remain in monochrome?

  • RGJ says:

    I suppose sheer curiosity could be driving people to want to see Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats. Or, as is often the case, these folks were young when it was first on and are remembering the show through those tiny little rose-colored glasses.

    Regarding the public domain, I’ve long hoped to find a lawyer who knows his way around the issue and pick his brain. With shows that are actually in the public domain, if a DVD company can’t find quality or color prints, they have to release what they do have.

    As an aside, I remember reading once that a public domain DVD company was set to issue several episodes of Sky King on DVD only to learn that those episodes were still copyrighted. I wonder how often that happens. It doesn’t seem to be easy, or at least not cheap and quick, to ascertain what is or is not public domain.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    “PISTOLS ‘N’ PETTICOATS” was produced by Joe Connelly & Bob Mosher’s “Kayro-Vue Productions” [and copyrighted under that production company's name], in association with MCA/Universal (it was their next project after “THE MUNSTERS” was cancelled after two seasons), and those episodes are still in the Universal vaults, waiting to be rediscovered. I believe at least one is on deposit in the Library of Congress.

    MCA had a habit, during the ’60s and ’70s, of taking their “one-season wonders”, and turning them into Universal “theatrical movies” for domestic and overseas release, then releasing them into “movie packages” for local stations, years later. “The Far Out West” (1968) is one example of how four episodes of “PISTOLS ‘N’ PETTICOATS” were “stitched” into a movie (minus the original laugh tracks), with new transition scenes inserted inbetween the episodes to make it appear as though it were a “feature-length” story. “Tammy and the Millionaire” (1967) was four episodes of Universal’s 1965-’66 “TAMMY” series similarly strung together, as was “The Pill Caper”, which is how most people know about “MR. TERRIFIC” these days.

    As for copyright, I believe NBC Universal {as it’s known today} still controls it, although “PISTOLS” is SUCH an obscure series (and I honstly believe it might have gotten a nod at a second season if Ann Sheridan hadn’t died before the season ended), they MIGHT have let the copyright lapse by 1984-’85 [28 years was the original limit on copyrighting movies and TV shows from that period].

    And yes, there’s a five minute “preview” of the series (scenes from the pilot episode) featured in the 1966 “CBS Fall Preview” the network sent out to its affiliates for local broadcast before the season began. The special was structured in “individual segments” so that each new series could also be “previewed” outside of the special, shown at any time of the local affiliate’s broadcast day (at their discretion) before the season began.

  • JJASH says:

    Regarding black and white film prints of series episodes that were originally filmed in color. These were prints made for local tv
    stations. Although all three networks went color in the 1966-67 television season, many local stations were not upgraded to broadcast their locally syndicated reruns/movies in color until the early 1970’s. With this is mind, it made sense for studios to produce black and white prints for syndication- and it was less expensive.

  • Pamela Finklestain says:

    There are no registrations with the USCO for any episode whatsoever of Pistols N’ Petticoats. That is why you see them on PD sets.

    Pamela

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