Dracula, Nosferatu and Copyright in our time

prepared by Elisa Beshero-Bondar

26 April 2024 for DIGIT program

Link to these slides:  https://bit.ly/draculcopy

Nosferatu (1922)

Jonathan Bailey, "Dracula and Nosferatu: A True Copyright Horror Story" Plagiarism Today (October 17, 2011)

Nosferatu and copyright history


  • Producer/set design/writer: Albin Grau (Germany)
    • (Director: F. W. Murnau)
  • Inspiration: Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (1897)
    • book accidentally in public domain in the US (missing copyright notice)
    • Europe: Stoker estate holds copyright til 1962 (50 years after author's death)
    • Florence Stoker refuses to sell rights to Grau

Nosferatu and copyright history

  • Grau worked hard to alter the narrative:
    • changed plot, characters, settings
      • Dracula  Count Orlock
      • Jonathan Harker / Mina  Hutter / Ellen
      • super condensed plot,  altered contexts of vampire encounters
    • German expressionism film experiment
    • early prints of the film did still have "Dracula "on the title screen, though...

Nosferatu and copyright history


  • 1922 Lawsuit! 
    • Florence Stoker (widow of Bram), sent the Nosferatu film poster by mail (anonymous sender):
      • Poster reads: ”Freely adapted from Bram Stoker's Dracula.
    • Nosferatu was premiering in Berlin Zoological Garden.
    • Stoker estate sues in Germany, and wins
      • All copies in Germany ordered to be burned!
      • Prana Films (Grau's company) folds
      • Just one copy escapes--sent to the United States
      • The only version of Nosferatu preserved now widely circulates
    • Dracula (dir. Tod Browning, starring Bela Lugosi) 1931: The first Dracula movie endorsed by Florence Stoker, released in Hollywood.

      • ​Two film versions of Dracula's character: one endorsed by the Stokers, the other not.


Bela Lugosi as Dracula, 1931

Max Schreck as Count Orlock, 1922

Night of the Living Dead snafu...and all the public domain zombies!

Copyright and adaptation

  • In the 1920s and 30s, copyright cases did not take kindly to adaptation
    • Berne Convention (1886): established protections for authors, artists, musicians
    • Yet, according to Berne Convention, quoting is acceptable:  "Under this Article, it “shall be permissible to make quotations from a work which has already been lawfully made available to the public, provided that their making is compatible with fair practice, and their extent does not exceed that justified by the purpose”.
  • See Guilda Rostama Remix Culture and Amateur Creativity: A Copyright Dilemma Wipo Magazine, June 2015.

Is it “Fair Use”?

See Mariah Lewis, Fair Use in the Real World, Fordham Library News, 2021.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

– Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, Section 107)

Is it “Fair Use”?

Take a look at some cases featured in Mariah Lewis, Fair Use in the Real World, Fordham Library News, 2021.

Criteria frequently cited:


  • The purpose of the use: transformative? Parody? (okay!)
  • The nature of the copyrighted work (?)
  • The amount of the material used
  • The effect of use on the potential market for, or value of, the work (don't threaten the profits of the original creator)

Copyright, Generative AI, and the Art World

Haje Jan Kamps, Copyright law is going to get real interesting, y’all  TechCrunch 9 August 2022. (Midjourney and you sharing copyright?)

US Copyright Office right now...



Bill brought to US House of Representatives, April 2024: demanding transparency in AI

What will you do with your work?

Creative Commons licenses and AI

  • CC licenses tend to promote free remix culture
  • They also provide guidance on crediting sources and protecting your own work
    • Click on a license and it guides you to human-readable licensing info and how to add a badge to your own site.
  • Generative AI engines can be trained on your work, and might be protected by "fair use" (pending legal / legislative decisions)

    See https://creativecommons.org/2023/08/18/understanding-cc-licenses-and-generative-ai/

What will you do with your work?

  • Try the Creative Commons License Selector and apply a badge to your site
  • "No-AI" Badges, if appropriate!
  • When hosting, decide your AI policy: (You don't have to ban AI, but you can require people to responsibly announce their use of AI)
    • See arxiv.org: https://blog.arxiv.org/2023/01/31/arxiv-announces-new-policy-on-chatgpt-and-similar-tools/

Remember to license your work!

Keystone DH 2024 Conference Submission policy:

Use of generative AI language tools:


Since generative AI is an important and timely area of investigation in digital humanities, we are interested in your experiments with it, but we expect our conference participants to take responsibility for authorship of proposals and presentations. We ask that conference applicants and presenters report their use of generative AI language tools, following arXiv's AI policy.


What do you think about AI in digital creation?


Link to these slides:


Dracula and Copyright

By Elisa Beshero-Bondar

Dracula and Copyright

Dracula, copyright history, creative commons, and remix culture in the 2020s.

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