Saturday, February 27, 2016

Get 'em while you can

Back at the beginning of the month, I mentioned the film All This and World War II, and how somebody had posted it to Youtube. Unsurprisingly, in the couple of weeks since then, it's been taken down for copyright violations. (I have no idea whether it's the holders of the Fox copyrights or the Beatles copyrights who requested the takedown.)

Of course, it was a massive copyright violation. But then, there are a lot of much older movies out there that are still on Youtube and which in theory could be taken down tomorrow. You can argue it's a bunch of nonsense, because there was a long time when the copyright term was only 28 years, renewable for another 47; I think I've mentioned in the past that lack of copyright renewals was how many films fell into the public domain (including, for a while, It's a Wonderful Life). It's a Wonderful Life, however, fell back out of the public domain due to copyright issues surrounding the underlying story, if memory serves, which is why some other movies never show up on TCM.

But even with that old 75-year copyright term, just think of all the old movies that would now be in the public domain that aren't. We'd be getting into movies from 1941 being public domain, so the entirety of "Hollywood's Greatest Year", 1939, would be out of copyright for over a year, and stuff like Citizen Kane would be soon to follow. But as the law stands, stuff going back to 1923 is still under copyright, with the term being 120 years, so expect the next big push for copyright term extension in the 2040s, just before Steamboat Willie would otherwise fall into the public domain.

The upshot is, if you see any movie from after 1923 on Youtube and not put there by the studios, don't expect it to stay up very long. Anything before 1923 should be safe, with the caveat that they may have mistakenly used music that's under copyright, something which has screwed up a lot of Youtube posters -- I've read of things like political campaign rallies that accidentally leave in some of the music before the candidate comes out to deliver the stump speech, and wouldn't you know the copyright holder gets them for that.

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