Not that “public domain” seems to mean much these days. I found out (perhaps re-discovered?) that King Kong’s public domain-ness had been established by Universal Studios when it remade the film in 1976. They got sued by people claiming partial ownership on various bits of the RKO movie made in the 30′s, but Universal successfully argued that nobody owned the big ol’ ape. This later came back to bite them when they sued Nintendo over their character, Donkey Kong, and lost when it was pointed out that nobody owned King Kong so Nintendo could Kong it up all they wanted.
When I say PD doesn’t seem to mean much, it’s because I keep finding examples of where people with shedloads of money and lawyers aplenty can put the kibosh on legitimate uses of PD characters. In a prospective comic I’m working on, I thought it might be kind of fun to have a bunch of people who use swords for a living. They’d be referred to in slang as a bunch of Zorros. While the early Zorro movies, The Curse of Capistrano and The Mark of Zorro had their copyrights lapse in 1995 and in many cases courts have ruled that the character is PD, some people under the name “Zorro Productions, Inc.” keep suing anything with a black mask and a rapier. For someone like me, if I wanted to make some kind of Zorro revival comic or novel or give a group in an unrelated tale a referential monicker, they’d probably win any dispute by default since I can’t afford some law-talking-person to go before a judge and get it ruled yet again that Zorro belongs to no one.
It’s getting to the point where someone’s going to claim they own Shakespeare. That’s a joke… I hope.