Saturday, May 28, 2016

It's a Copyright Jungle Out There

As it turns out this film is kind of illegal.

One Night Near Bedford Falls

I did this last November.  It's really a love letter to one of my all time favorite movies, It's A Wonderful Life, because I remember watching it at one of my darkest periods and it definitely rescued me.  As an artist making my own films I am also well aware of copyright.  I remembered that there was a case about AWOL falling in to public domain so I started searching.

In the 80's the film fell in to public domain after the studio dropped the ball and failed to refile the paperwork.  Everyone could, and did, use it which was a good and bad thing.  Stations were able to show it for free and it filled a big time slot during the usually low rated holiday hours.  In one way this brought about it's resurgence.  People who hadn't seen it in many years, or not seen it at all, got the chance to watch it again and fell in love with it.  On the bad side of things every hack in the world could use it and there were dozens of releases on video including Ted Turner vandalizing it in color.  

In the 90's, however, there was a change.  After several court rulings it was decided that when the film went in to public domain the rights to music purchased for the film, Buffalo Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight, went back to its original holders.  Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed dance to it, sing to it, there are call backs to it, and it is played during the credits so it's a major part of the film.  If you wanted to use it you would either have to pay them whatever they asked or rework so much of it you'd hurt the final project.  It stopped a great deal of misuse and, thankfully, AWOL was able to maintain it's integrity.

That was how I got involved in it.  When I wanted to use it for my tribute I had to carefully choose what scenes to show to avoid the song.  I even had to recut the sound for a brief clip and replace the music with more bells.  It put it out there and it was well received.

Earlier this week I put it on youtube and, in a few days, I was contacted by YT that there was a copyright notice from Paramount Pictures on the use of the film.  They didn't demand it's removal but they wanted to make the complaint known and offer me a chance to defend my actions so I started researching again.  As it turned out there had been a recent change in the copyright that I wasn't aware of.   

AWOL is based on a short story called The Greatest Gift.  Paramount had successfully petitioned the courts that since the movie was 'a derivative' of this story and they still owned the story that, therefore, they owned the film.  The courts agreed.  At least it's a relief to know that the future of this film is in safe hands.

As for my film it gets to stay out there.  I can't deny I was pretty surprised that the short film under a different name was able to catch the attention of Paramount.  Maybe because it's used respectfully someone decided it wasn't worth making a fuss about.  I probably will never really know.