How's it feel knowing that you – John and Jane Q. Public – own the horror classic Night of the Living Dead?
Awesome, right? Try not to let it go to your brains, though. Because all of us own it.
More accurately, the movie – which came out in 1968 and basically created the "zombie" genre as we know it – is in the public domain.
That means it belongs to the public. So you can do pretty much whatever you want with the movie – including charging people to see it at your theater without paying a studio for the rights to do so, or just watching it for free at home.
Now, this might seem strange, considering the movie isn't that old. And under U.S. law, the copyright on the film shouldn't expire for another 70 years, which is the year 2087.
There's one problem, though: Night of the Living Dead doesn't have a copyright, and it never has.
The innocent mistake of a lifetime
Filmed in Pittsburgh, the movie was originally going to be called Night of the Flesh Eaters.
Thankfully, they decided to go with Living Dead instead, but that didn't happen until after the original (not nearly as cool) title had already been put on prints of the movie.
When updating the final print to add the new title card, the film distributor apparently forgot to include the all-important copyright notice, Plagiarism Today notes.
Night went on to make an estimated $12 million in the decade following its release – but director George Romero, his production company, and their investors never saw any real money from it.
And it's all because someone left that copyright off the movie.
Seem like an unfair rule? Apparently U.S. lawmakers thought so, which is probably why they would eventually pass the Copyright Act of 1976. The new law removed the requirement that a creative work was only protected if it included a "©," Plagiarism Today says.
The act, unfortunately, was about eight years too late for Night.
The silver lining
As the Verge notes, the lack of copyright was actually a blessing in disguise, as it provided "the ultimate distribution tool" for a B-movie that might not have been widely seen otherwise.
And even though Night never turned a profit, it invented the modern concept of the zombie, and made Romero into a bona fide horror legend.
It also led to a host of sequels, including 1978's Dawn of the Dead – which has been described as "the Citizen Kane of horror."
As if cult immortality weren't enough, Night was added to the Library of Congress in 1999, joining those special movies the U.S. government considers "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."
So if I own it, where can I watch it?
Watching Night of the Living Dead isn't always free; if you want to own a copy on DVD or Blu-Ray it'll cost you, depending on which edition you're buying.
But there are ways to watch the film for free – without having to pirate it – online.
It's streaming at archive.org (though their copy of it isn't the best), and plenty of helpful fans have uploaded it to YouTube, of course.
So without further ado, here's the movie: