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A few words about...™ Classic film piracy out in the open

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Professor Echo, Apr 1, 2012.

  1. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Well-Known Member

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    I would like to know where Mr. Harris stands on famous directors such as Tarentino and Dante who maintain extensive private libraries of copyrighted film prints. Is he okay with that? Does he himself have any prints in a private collection?
     
  2. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I think it's great that people have prints, be they famous or not. The majority have been excessed over the years, and private holdings of physical media harms no one, providing that it's not stolen. Many filmmakers today have contractual deals with studios for print ownership.

    Have I owned prints?

    Absolutely.

    I began collecting 16mm when I was in my teens, as that was the only way that one could see many films. Fortunately, in my college years I worked for a company from which I was able to borrow prints for screening. Occasionally, prints no longer serviceable would be "junked" my way. The trick was to cut together multiple unusable prints into something fit for home screening. Over the years, I worked my way into 35, but today have only a few scraps -- literally some tests and bits and pieces.

    In the late '60s I suggested to my superiors that "home theater" might be an interesting idea. At that time, we has the capability of released on both Super 8 optical print from Technicolor as well as the new 1/2 reel to reel video. The concept was turned down, and home theater never took off.

    All of my prints have been donated to archives -- some of the items, unique. Last to go was a British dye transfer print of A Matter of Life and Death. I've always been a huge Powell / Pressburger fan.

    Not only are the prints protected, and in good hands, but should I need to screen something, it can be made available. My facilities are now completely digital.

    The point should be made that ownership, if one might call it that, of a print, which is really more a conservatorship, is totally different than someone taking a copyrighted element, and reproducing it for profit.

    I also own copyrights, so I tend to take them extremely seriously.

    RAH
     
  3. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Well-Known Member

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    I think it's fair to say that the majority of people who own private prints and screen them do so illegally. They may not be reproducing them, but the simple fact of possession is usually considered illegal even for private use. I think it's a bit disingenuous to suggest that more than a few owners have agreements with the studios. According to the FBI they are supposed to prosecute even when there is no monetary gain to be made from owning such copyrighted materials.

    Certainly any number of private collectors have been beneficial in preserving films that the studios couldn't be bothered with. Take for example the owner of the Vine theater in Hollywood in the 90's who wanted to show his personal IB Tech print of THE OMEGA MAN at his theater only to get a cease and desist order from Warner Brothers. Interestingly he claimed to have found the print in the trash at WB and the studio did in fact admit at the time that this collector owned what was probably the only IB Tech print of the film still in existence. At least that was the story of the owner who was finally granted permission to play the film for a single week.

    George Cukor once asked me if I had access to any of the deleted scenes in A STAR IS BORN and he promised me NO QUESTIONS ASKED. I think private collectors are one of the best resources for film preservation, but in the light of the law they are still supposed to be prosecuted every bit as much as the pirates this thread decries.
     
  4. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I believe that law enforcement no longer has any interest in those who may have film prints. From my experience, the majority of collectors are more than happy to work with the studios toward preservation via loan of prints, most notably in recent years for the reclamation of magnetic audio. This probably comes as the mindset at the studios has changed over the past 40-50 years. Keep in mind that there was a period during which, if you desired to own a 16mm dye transfer print of The Adventures of Robin Hood or a beautiful black & white of The Big Sleep, Warner Bros. would sell it to you.

    RAH
     
  5. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Well-Known Member

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    I'm glad to hear this as I do believe that private collectors from all over the world have yielded some pretty spectacular finds and contributed a lot to film preservation. . When I collected in the 80's it was considered a dangerous hobby even though it was for my own private use. Like RAH I wound up donating everything to archives except for my IB TECH 35mm print of ONE EYED JACKS which I could not part with and, of course, now is perfectly legal to own.
     
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I'm unaware what the studio or the Academy are holding on O-EJ. You might check with them, and at least let it be know that you have a print, lest it be needed for something. There is a single 35mm print at UCLA.
     
  7. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Well-Known Member

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    The UK Hitchcock films have been being released as public domain by various DVD releasing companies (and VHS before that) for a good 25 years. If they weren't in the PD at that time, then they certainly are now, for lack of defense by the original copyright holder. If a copyright is not vigorously defended, it will fall in to the public domain no matter what the time frame of copyright or how the laws might have changes with regard to those time frames.
    At least that is my understanding.
    Doug
     
  8. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The defense, ie. litigation toward illegal use of a copyrighted entity has little to do with whether something is protected or not.

    The majority, if not all, of the Hitchcock UK productions were in the public domain, but are now (as of c. 1998) protected by virtue of the GATT Treaty.

    They are not in the public domain.

    RAH
     
  9. Jeff Adkins

    Jeff Adkins Well-Known Member

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    I do like the way the EU handled their copyright extension. It has a "use it or lose it" clause.
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/07/16/ec_copyright_term_extension/
     
  10. Dave S.G.

    Dave S.G. Well-Known Member

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    Sorry if this drifts off-topic but these posts reminded me of the seizure of Roddy McDowall's private collection in the '70s and thought it was worth mentioning. From IMDB (so take the details with a grain or two of salt):
    "In 1974 the FBI raided [McDowall's] home and seized his collection of films and TV series during an investigation of copyright infringement and movie piracy. The collection consisted of 160 16mm prints and over 1,000 videocassettes. The value of the films was conservatively assessed at $5,005,426 by representatives of the movie industry. The actor was not charged and agreed to cooperate with the FBI. There was then no aftermarket for films, as the commercial video recorder had not been marketed, and studios routinely destroyed old negatives and prints of classic films they felt had no worth. Film buffs like McDowall had to purchase 16mm prints of films from the studios, or movie prints on the black market, or from other collectors. He claimed that he had once had as many as 337 movies in his collection, but at the time of the investigation he was not sure how many were still in his possession. He had bought Errol Flynn's movie collection, and had acquired other films through purchases or swaps. McDowall told the FBI that he had transferred many of his films to videotape in order to conserve space and because tape was longer-lasting than film, and subsequently had sold or traded the prints, plus other prints of movies he had lost interest in, to other collectors. He said that he collected the films due to his love of the cinema and to help protect the movies' heritage. McDowall also said that being in possession of prints of his own films allowed him to study his acting and improve his craft. One of the films he had purchased, from American-International Pictures, was "The Devil's Widow", a movie he himself had directed. He explained that he believed that he was not in violation of copyright, as he was not showing the films for profit, nor trying to make a profit when selling his prints as he charged only what he remembered as the price he himself paid. He believed he had purchased some of the films outright from 20th Century-Fox, but learned subsequently from his lawyer that his agreement with Fox meant the studio retained ownership of the prints, and that he was forbidden to sell, trade or lend them out. McDowall was forthcoming about the individuals he dealt with on the black market, and also named Rock Hudson, Dick Martin and Mel Tormé as other celebrities with film collections."
     
  11. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Five million dollars? Please. He did nothing wrong.

    Actors having prints of their own films brings to mind something that occurred, as I recall, some time in the 1940s. I believe it was Bud Abbott, who borrowed a print of Robin Hood for a kid's birthday party from Errol Flynn. Somehow cases got switched, and the kids ending up viewing the first couple of moments of a porn film, before it was taken down.

    Collectors, as conservators, going back to the '60s, are the best thing to happen to film preservation, with the exception of the work of Roger Mayer. In the decades that I've been working with film, I have only found one owner of a print who was not forthcoming and helpful.

    RAH
     
  12. haineshisway

    haineshisway Well-Known Member

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    Having been a major collector of 16mm and 35mm prints, I was happily never hounded or spoken to in any way, shape, or form. I had absolutely amazing things - for a time I had the single best IB Tech print of Vertigo at a time when you could not see Vertigo anywhere. You know why I got rid of it? This is such a stupid story, but fun - I got rid of it because a DP friend of mine said he'd seen the new LPP prints that Universal had done (just before their theatrical release) and that they were right off the negative and amazing. So, I got rid of my tech prints. What a dolt! My poor little heart sank into the floor when I saw the new prints - they were off a negative all right, just not the camera negative and not a very good internegative. Oops. I called the DP and told him he was a total jerk for leading me down that path and I've not spoken to him since :)
    Those were the days - so much fun to get prints of your favorite films and screen them in one's home or wherever. No home video, no VHS, no nothing. We were IT.
     
  13. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Must have been about 1972. I was researching for a book on Hitchcock, and had friends staying overnight with their niece, who was traveling with them. I tended to watch films at odd hours, so as others were rising, I was half way through a beautiful print of Notorious, which I had probably begun around 7:30 am.

    One makes certain assumptions about film and actors, and presumptions about the knowledge of others.

    I was sitting with my friend when his niece joined us, sat down, watched a few minutes, and asked the big question.

    Who are they?

    They were Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

    RAH
     
  14. Vincent_P

    Vincent_P Well-Known Member

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    I think I have that book :)
    Vincent
     
  15. Brian McP

    Brian McP Well-Known Member

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    Great story Robert -- indeed without private collectors with their ''illegal' prints, quite a bit of our film history would be lost forever.
    Reading that report on the FBI raid on Roddy McDowall's collection made me think of what the film world also owes someone like James Mason -- besides giving us great performances in classic films, if he hadn't found Buster Keaton's private collection of his own movies, in the cellar of one of Buster's old homes, we certainly would have lost most of the work of one of the all-time greats.
     
  16. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    There are still films out there to be found. Attics, basements, old storage areas, barns, ice flows.

    Rather like mastodons.

    RAH
     
  17. Mark Oates

    Mark Oates Well-Known Member

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    In the UK there is still a culture of secrecy among film collectors in view of what happened to comedian and game show host Bob Monkhouse in the late 1970s. Bob was a keen film historian and had made quite a collection of old movies and tv shows, including a large number of silent comedies - his pet love - which he had helped preserve in the past. In 1979 he was arrested and charged with defrauding the Disney organisation. His entire collection was seized before the case went to the Old Bailey. Although he was acquitted on the grounds the films were for his own personal entertainment and that of invited guests and that no remuneration was involved, the damage was done. On the grounds of what would later be described as Health and Safety, the police had destroyed the nitrate-based material in the collection as a fire risk. Much of it was the only extant material of those titles.
    After Bob's death, the remaining collection is now held by Kaleidoscope, the classic television group.
     
  18. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I believe there was / is a similar situation is Australia. Fortunately, this is no longer the '70s as far as film collecting goes.
     
  19. Mark Oates

    Mark Oates Well-Known Member

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    There's never been a formal setting out of the legal position for film collectors. Organisations like the BBC use words like "amnesty" when talking about recovering old tv programmes in the sense of "if you let us know you have the only copy of such-and-such, we will arrange for its retrieval and in return we won't have you charged with theft". Fortunately common sense (a rare commodity) is beginning to creep in and the most recent finds have been sympathetically handled, but news about such recoveries tends not to get much publicity, so collectors' perception of matters don't improve.
    ISTR that Michael Eisner wasn't thrilled that Joe Public could own a copy of any of Disney's output to watch on demand. Can Hollywood really afford to view the now-mature home entertainment market that way?
    Ultimately resources left sitting in a vault are worthless, or worse an expense that penny-pinching executives may resent.
     
  20. bigshot

    bigshot Well-Known Member

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    Amnesty sounds a bit like blackmail.
     

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