Like books that have lost copyright protection, thousands of movies are in the public domain — to watch on your computer or mobile device, or through a set-top TV box.
Q. Amazon and other e-bookstores have a free section of old books in the public domain. Is there a similar place to find old movies that have lost their copyright and that I can legally watch for free on my phone or computer?
A. Thousands of films have either lost their copyright or been released into the public domain by their owners, and you can find them in several repositories around the web. Many of the available movies are from the mid-20th century and include works in a variety of genres, including the 1940 comedy “His Girl Friday,” with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant; the 1946 Judy Garland musical “Till the Clouds Roll By”; and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” a 1964 science-fiction romp.
Wikipedia has a long list of the major films in the public domain you can browse to get a better idea of what’s out there. The visual quality of the digitized movies may vary, but free is free.
With its colossal amount of content, YouTube is one place to browse. Some users have created channels devoted to public-domain films you can find by searching the site. In addition to its desktop website, YouTube has mobile apps for streaming video on the go; you can also lean back and watch at home through the YouTube app on many set-top TV boxes.
Some websites devoted to collections of public-domain films may simply link to content on YouTube anyway, as the Public Domain Flix site does. Public Domain Movies also has an organized collection of free movies, along with links to download MP4 copies to watch or copy to a mobile device when you have no internet connection.
The Internet Archive is another vast online vault of old movies to stream or download, including a large selection of feature films. The site also hosts thousands of short-format movies, video clips from NASA and the quirky Prelinger Archives of industrial and public service films among its extensive collection.
Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to [email protected]. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.
J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things. @jdbiersdorfer
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