Re: A Harold Lloyd question / underlying copyright

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: alt.movies.silent
Date: Saturday, September 19, 1998 9:22 PM

I (David P. Hayes) wrote:
>> This is not a silent movie, but will provide an example that would show that a
>> silent movie could be affected: PYGMALION. The British government recognizes
>> that the 1913 play does not go into the public domain until 50 years after the
>> death of its playwright, George Bernard Shaw. That 50 years hasn't finished.

I also wrote (not quoted but relevant here:

"(PYGMALION has been through a number of copyright peculiarities. An American copyright was not renewed when it came up for expiration in 1966. Budget Films was sued and lost for distributing the film p.d. because the court ruled that exhibition required a license to present the play. The 1913 play would have had its copyright expire at the end of 1988, but by then the British law was on the basis of the author's lifespan. Thus, PYGMALION remains under copyright.)"

[This latter point is wrong. See later.]

David Pierce wrote in message <>…
>This argument doesn't hold because the United
>States does not recognize the copyright terms
>of other countries. In other words, the United
>Kingdom is free to protect the copyright of
>Pygmalion (play or film) as long as it chooses.
>However, the U.S. will only protect that copyright
>(as a pre-1978 work) for a maximum of 75 years.
>The term of protection for the play has
>already expired in the United States (which
>is probably one of the few major countries where
>the play is in the public domain). The copyright
>in the film was restored, and will be in force
>for at least 75 years from 1938.

Quite so, I see the error I made before. To clarify matters, it's important to note that it's not so much an AMERICAN copyright that was restored after its lack of renewal in 1966 but rather a matter of the U.S. respecting BRITISH copyright which brings the term of protection in the U.S. to the same 75 years from 1938 that it would have had were there not the matter of the U.S. copyright not being renewed (this latter now being a moot point). (Apparently it's coincidental that the U.S. and British laws both set a 75-year limit for corporate-made works during the relevant time period.)

I don't believe that Mr. Pierce was questioning my interpretation on the American vs. British aspect of which copyright the U.S. is now respecting, for he did not dispute the remarks I made previously about the U.S. copyright having not been renewed after 28 years. I merely offer elaboration lest this be misunderstood by other readers. (Again, should anyone see what I stated previously about the U.S. status hanging on the lifespan of playwright G.B. Shaw, I was wrong on that score.)

As David Pierce stated:
>Therefore, since the U.S. only protects pre-1978
>works for a fixed term (instead of a life-based
>term), by definition, no underlying work could
>have a term of protection longer than the motion
>picture adaptation. This speaks only to the term
>of protection within the United States.

This certainly applies to G.B. Shaw's 1913 play.

In recounting the history of the U.S. copyright status on that 1938 British-made film, I erred on the third (and last) "period," the one in which British law is respected by the U.S.

David Hayes


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