Re: "Gold Rush"/foreign copyright (WAS: Paul Killiam and Silents Please)

From: David P. Hayes
Date: 1997/10/23
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent

In article <>, (ChaneyFan) wrote:
> Gene Stavis made a number of comments on my earlier post.  He is fundamentally
>  correct on many of his points, but I want to elaborate on a few:
> >>>The reason Chaplin did not prevent (THE GOLD RUSH) from going into p.d. is
>  that he  assumed that the sound reissue would be protection enough… .
> I agree…
> >>>The same might be  said of "La Grande Illusion". It has been p.d. for over
>  twenty years -- it is  now protected again -- in effect the government has
>  said that the original  French copyright of 1937 is valid and that the
>  subsequent U.S. copyright of
>  the film which lapsed is not.
> That's different.  That's because the U.S. signed on to the Bern Convention
>  which forces them now to honor foreign copyrights. Since GRAND ILLUSION never
>  expired in France, the U.S. now honors that copyright even though the U.S.
>  copyright (which under Bern is now not even required) has lapsed.

I agree with all that you're saying with regard to the U.S. now honoring the French copyright. What I'm about to add is a nitpicky point that is such a technical nuance that I can understand why no one would have known about it. Strange as it may seem, GRAND ILLUSION existed in two quite different forms just as surely as does THE GOLD RUSH.  Both are among the very few films that were subsequently wholly-reedited with previously-unused takes.  In the case of GRAND ILLUSION, the Nazis destroyed the original when they occupied France.  In the late 1950s, the film was reconstructed (but its director) from outtakes that had been stored separately and had been spared the Nazi's handiwork.

> My understanding is that argument for the film once again falling under
>  copyright has to do with Chaplin being a British citizen, and the film is
>  therefore considered a foreign work.  (Frankly, I don't understand the
>  argument as stated at all, so I may have this all messed up…but that's the
>  point, the argument makes no sense!)  This is like saying that HIS GIRL
>  FRIDAY is protected by British copyright because Cary Grant was born in
>  England.  It is a stupid arguement.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY was registered in the name of Columbia Pictures Corp., not Cary Grant, who merely appeared in it.  The pertinent factor with THE GOLD RUSH is not that Chaplin starred in or directed the picture but that the copyright is in his name (not the name of his studio or his company, but of the British citizen).  One might wonder why he didn't take out the copyright with the British copyright office rather than the American one, but if the British copyright office is willing to honor the present-day registration, the U.S. will honor the British honoring it.

Under American law, no one nor any company could wait 72 years before taking out a copyright. Many European countries are willing to accept registration at any time during the period covered by a copyright (in most European countries, this is 75 years from the first public exhibition of the work).

> >>>It seems to me  that the underlying concept of the original copyright in the
>  country of origin  being valid is a plausible one.
> And what is the country of origin of THE GOLD RUSH?  A film shot in the U.S.,
>  financed in the U.S., edited in the U.S., printed in the U.S., copyrighted in
>  the U.S., and first exhibited in the U.S.  Gosh! You're right!  It's a
>  BRITISH film.  Why didn't I see this before??

I sympathize.  I didn't see it either.And if the point is so subtle and unusual that others won't see it, the courts might well conclude that violators are subject to cease-and-desist orders but not to penalties.  I'm straying from my limited expertise here, but I have read that when the copyright status is not all that clear (e.g. the "Peter Pan" television special that had copyright noticed on the original film reels but not on the film image itself), then those who make unauthorized copies are not subject to punitive damages. Anyone know otherwise?



Although it remains true that legislation passed by the United States Congress in 1994 made it possible for works with valid foreign copyrights and made by foreign entities to again be copyrighted in the United States after being denied such coverage, there are some exceptions specified in that legislation, one of which affects The Gold Rush.

A detailed explanation of how the exceptions in the GATT/URAA legislation affects The Gold Rush, visit the exercises page at


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