Re: Duping vs Restoration / It's a Wonderful Life copyright status

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent,rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Saturday, December 13, 1997 6:32 PM

in message <348B2164.A8AAC8A5@home.com>:
>There is also some controversy now about them even being able to
>copyright a movie based on the ownership of the music within. This
>whole story may flipflop around for years.

>There is also some controversy now about them even being able to
>copyright a movie based on the ownership of the music within. This
>whole story may flipflop around for years.

Since the above passage was posted, various parties who took part in the earlier exchange have traded email, and thus a clarification can be offered on that basis. The above passage was ambiguous about the controversy over the non-renewal of the film's overriding copyright, as opposed to enforcing a pre-existing copyright on the music. This is not the same as an attempt to restore copyright, nor of establishing who owns the music.

Dimitri Tiomkin--credited with writing the film's score--took out a separate copyright. This copyright does not pose a problem if music rights are licensed from the song owners, and this almost invariably happens (just look at the end credits of recent movies--they're full of such notices as "…through BMG special products licensing," "…performed by… . courtesy of Sony Classics,"…). A standard contract for the sale of the music for use in the movie would grant the studio and its assignees and its future owners with the right to use the music, probably in perpetuity.

Under the law in force at the time, the music in "It's a Wonderful Life" could not have been copyrighted more than a year after it was first heard by an American audience. Under the current laws, it's five years after first exhibition.) The only thing that has changed in recent years with regards to determining who has the legal right to show "It's a Wonderful Life" is that (a) the "owners" of the movie have become aware of this separate copyright, (b) the "owners" have made a deal with the estate of the (credited) composer, Dimitri Tiomkin (who did not write all of the music, despite what Republic would have you believe), and/or (c) Republic has made a lot of public statements and announcements and sent a lot of legal letters to warn others not to use the movie.

Many people's understanding of the situation has been clouded by general-circulation, general-interest newspapers and magazines. However, general newspapers aren't good about getting these kinds of facts and details correct--and tend to mess up about such things as the music copyright not being a recent copyright as opposed to merely being something that has only recently been enforced.

This subject had been discussed in past months (by myself and others). A search through DejaNews will provide more information to those wanting it.

The interpretations herein are mine, and I can not presume to speak for anyone I've heard from in the discussion of this topic.

--
David Hayes

 

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