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July 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 29 Jul 1992 00:26:23 EDT
text/plain (43 lines)
Copyright protection is more complicated than the 28+28 formula that
Jeremy used to calculate copyright expiration.  In 1962 when copyright
revision first became an issue in Congress they passed a resolution
freezing the expiration of any material whose copyright would expire
that year (that is, material first copyrighted 1906 and renewed in 1934
under the old law).  In the fourteen years it took to finally pass a
law, the same resolution was kept in place, so that no copyright expired
when it would have under the old law.  To accomodate these copyrights
the law provided for a term of 75 years from the date of original
copyright.  Thus anything copyrighted earlier than 75 years ago is
clearly in public domain, available for use by anyone for any purpose.
The copyright law provides for a new copyright for any substantial
creative contribution to a work in public domain.  Thus, the play
OLIVER! is protected even though it is based on a work in public domain.
You could, legally, write another play based on Dickens' work so long
as it is based EXCLUSIVELY on the earlier work and does not include
anything from the later, still copyrighted, play.  This bit of legal
logic explains why there are two productions of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
They are both based on the underlying book which is in public domain.
This legal logic also explains why a color version of IT'S A WONDERFUL
LIFE is protected by copyright while the black and white version is not.
(For some reason, the original Liberty Company production was never
copyrighted which threw it into public domain as soon as it was
The Ted Turner story is different.  His firm owns the rights to the
films they are colorizing.  They become covered by a new copyright, but
this is trimming; the original copyright for most of the MGM library is
still in effect under the 75 year rule.
If you really want further complications, many works copyrighted in the
year before 1934 were not were not renewed at the expiration of the
first 28 year term.  My layman's interpretation of this fact is that
works copyrighted before 1934 (that is, a 28 year term before the 1962
freeze) may be in public domain.
Cal Pryluck                               <PRYLUCK@TEMPLEVM>
Dept of Radio-Television-Film             <[log in to unmask]>
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122