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Community Cinema And Showing old Movies

 
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troleman
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:01 pm    Post subject: Community Cinema And Showing old Movies Reply with quote

Our local film club recently showed Buster Keaton's film of 1926 "The General" and we paid a substantial fee for the right to show it as a non-theatrical screening.

In the US this film is in the public domain as its license was not renewed after 28 years as required by US copyright law at that time.

The UK regulations under "The Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995" say -

(6) Where the country of origin of the work is not an EEA state and the author of the work is not a national of an EEA state, the duration of copyright is that to which the work is entitled in the country of origin, provided that does not exceed the period which would apply under subsections (2) to (5).

So why do I have to pay for a screening license to show this film?

I hope someone out there can enlighten me...
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troleman
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:23 pm    Post subject: DVD vs Film Reply with quote

I should add that the version of "The General" we showed was an "enhanced" version on DVD with a music soundtrack - although the license itself does not specify which medium to use - and several different such versions are available.

It could be argued that the people who create these DVD versions should have some rights - but if so there would not appear to be any mechanism to specify the version used.

And what if we had acquired a version of the film on celluloid and an old projector?
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AndyJ
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Troleman,
You are right in thinking that if copyright has expired in the country of origin, then generally speaking UK copyright law does not seek to extend the term here. There are a few special rules within the European Economic Area but they don't apply here.
And of course we are looking at three different ways of calculating copyright terms for films: the one which applied in the US prior to 1976 was based on periods of regsitration, while from 1956 until the 1995 Regulations you quote, the term in the UK was fifty years from the year it was made, and then from 1996, the term was based on the lifetime plus seventy years of the last survivor from among the director, the author of the screenplay, the author of the dialogue and the composer of the film score.
Of course none of the previous paragraph applies if, as you say, the original film fell out of copyright due to not having been re-registered (I'll assume you're right as I haven't checked.)
So to answer your last question first, if you had shown a copy of the original film (which was probably on nitro-cellulose film stock rather than celluloid), then no licence fee would have been necessary.
However, in re-issuing a digital version it is almost certain that the film company have claimed a brand new copyright from the point where the new version was made. That is what you will have had to pay a licence fee for, I suspect.
However it is highly debatable as to whether the re-mastering process involved in digitzing the analog film would be seen by the courts here in the UK as sufficiently original to qualify for copyright as a 'new' work. In a case called Hyperion Records v Lionel Sawkins, the musicologist Dr Sawkins was found to be entitled to the copyright in his restored and re-arranged version of some music composed in the eighteenth century by the French composer Michel Delalande even though the original music had long been in the public domain. The reason Dr Sawkins was successful was because the court found he had acted in a highly skillful way to research, reconstruct and transpose parts of the original score during which he added new elements. I doubt whether the same degree of expertise could argued when it came to digitizing old film stock. However the addition of a new music soundtrack to the version you saw is clearly a new work and so that alone would justify the copyright in the new version. A film is generally considered to consist of both the images and soundtrack, even though the soundtrack can also stand alone.
So, morally speaking I have much sympathy with your view that you should not have been charged this fee to see the original film, but this kind of re-packaging of old material is one the many ways in which the movie and recording industry can keep copyright alive almost indefinitely (see for example the story of the Disney cartoon short Steamboat Willy)
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 21, 2012 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Andy

Thank you very much for your detailed reply. And sorry for the delay in replying.

Since I've only got into this recently I'm finding that it is a bit of a minefield. We bought our screening license from a company that seem to act as a kind of broker who deals with the copyright owners. There does seem to be a lot of smoke and mirrors involved.

I found a number of references on-line which confirmed that "The General" is in the public domain in the US. Presumably(?) - anyone could acquire a copy(on any medium?), enhance it in some way, put it on a DVD and claim copyright. And if I look on-line I can find many different versions - some in general anthologies/collections - some on VHS - some downloads. There are at least 4 different soundtracks available, some are custom-written for the film while others would seem to be just out-takes from old classical music recordings. These people would get some revenue from the sale of the recordings but I don't see how they would get any fee from screenings. I don't know who received the fee we paid but I suppose the broker took a chunk and then the rest went to the successors of the Rohauer organisation.

The DVD we used was one produced by Thames Silents in collaboration with Rohauer and had a custom score written by Carl Davis - but the people who sold us the license don't provide any media and told us we could use any legally acquired copy of the film. Apparently even those sold for home use which have a copyright notice specifically forbidding public display are OK.

There are copies of this film on YouTube and you can download it from websites in the US for royalty-free media such as http://archive.org These copies are not good enough for a public screening.

Another film we have shown is WC Fields's "The Dentist" which is also out of copyright in the US for the same reason. We showed it with the original soundtrack using one of many DVDs available. The quality was not very good. Again we paid a fee - not as much as for The General - but this is a 20 minute short.

I suspect that film societies like ours will simply take the easy route and pay the fee rather than risk an expensive and time-consuming legal wrangle. A shame but perhaps an organisation like the British Film Institute or British Federation of Film Societies would have the clout to take on one of these cases.

Thanks again
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