Copyright & Alterations (Was Re:The Tramp (was Re: Paul Killiam and Silents Please))

From: David P. Hayes
Date: 1997/10/25
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent, rec.arts.movies.past-films

In article <19971024042301.AAA29597@ladder02.news.aol.com>,  chaneyfan@aol.com (ChaneyFan) responded to:
> >>>Are you sure about this part, Jon? I believe the congressional thing is just
> a fancy honor roll, and doesn't enforce any legal rcquirements or restrictions
> on the copyright holder. Otherwise it would seem to run afowl of the
> constitutional protection against unlawful seizure of private property.
>
> No, I am not sure.  …  Actually, there is ample precedent for the
>  "unlawful seizure of private property" like the owner of a building that is
>  declared a national historic site cannot tear it down and build a parking
>  garage.
>
> I don't remember the specifics, but I seem to recall that Turner backed down
>  from colorizing some film, CITIZEN KANE maybe, when it was added to the list,
>  but I'm sure that was simply voluntary.

My understanding is that the National Historic Film Registry Act merely makes it mandatory that altered versions of a film on the Congressional has to have a disclaimer stating that there was a modification.  (I've often wondered if that would mean that any silent film with a newly-recorded soundtrack, even one faithful to the score written for the film, would have to have a disclaimer saying that the original creators never heard or approved of the new performance.)  Of course, these disclaimers have become so commonplace on television on films not on the list that a film on the list doesn't get a special privilege.

In the case of CITIZEN KANE, it's not that an act of Congress resulted in a challenge to keep it from being colorized, but that scholarly fans found a clause in Orson Welles's' contract stating that he had approval on the look of the film.  Ted Turner contended that as long as the original film was intact and in circulation, he could issue a second version with an electronic-paint job; nonetheless, Turner chose to back down and declared that he was willing to toss his adversaries "a bone," as he put it.

Jon, you had a good analogy of copyright-rights-being-usurped with the precedent of national historic sites being declared off-limits to the wrecking ball. You show where the law may go; the fact that films are usually seen by the public in copies rather than in the form of a solitary, uncopyable camera original may be the main factor that precludes historic films from more control.  Another may be that politicians are like to be less in awe of a "mere mass entertainment" (in their eyes) from the past than of Gettysburg.

 

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