Public domain questions

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Steve Armbrust, Jan 15, 2004.

  1. Steve Armbrust

    Steve Armbrust Second Unit

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    I'm going to ask my questions again in a separate thread, because they were getting lost in the quite interesting discussion of which films are or are not in PD.

    Anyway, I recently purchased the 50 Movie Pack Family Classic collection from Treeline Films. It's quite a hodge-podge of PD films. I haven't watched all the movies yet, but those I've seen are definitely of mixed quality ('Til the Clouds Roll By is OK, but Let's Get Tough is unwatchable, for example). Seeing all these movies in one set made me wonder:

    1. Where does someone go to get all these movies and how would a reputable company legitimately obtain the highest quality version?

    2. If someone spent the money and effort to restore some of these films, what's to keep someone else from using and selling that copy. (From the other thread, it seems like this is an open question.)

    3. If someone used a purely automated restoration technique (i.e. in the most extreme case, pushed the Restore button and came back a week later to look at the results), would that version be copyrightable? Could one argue that the creation of the restoration software was in fact the creative effort that caused the resulting version to be copyrightable?

    I know there are a lot of talented, knowledgable people who frequent this forum and I'd value your input.
     
  2. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Lead Actor
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    Yes, I think you could make that argument.

    There's a very slim profit margin on public domain releases that sell so cheaply - the company makes its money by acquiring the film and transfer elements as cheaply as possible, and releases it in the fastest, most inexpensive way possible. So you're not likely to see a lot of public domain titles getting full restoration treatment, at least, not the ones going for $3.99 in the bargain bin. (If you see a release like Kino's restored "Metropolis" onsale for the price of a standard release rather than a bargain bin price, you can bet that whoever put it out put some work into the release and has claim to the elements they used.)

    This isn't to say that some companies don't act illegally or at least in questionable legal areas - I'm sure if you took a look at all of the public domain releases from different companies of any particular title, you might notice that a couple of them appear to be from the exact same source, meaning that one company may have stolen another company's transfer.
     
  3. Damin J Toell

    Damin J Toell Producer

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    I'm not sure that I count as one of them, but hopefully the above is helpful.

    DJ
     
  4. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    Check out this site. Maybe this is where those DVD companies who specialise in public domain titles get them from: http://www.buyoutfootage.com
     
  5. Brian Thibodeau

    Brian Thibodeau Supporting Actor

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    If current distributors aren't already using a company like that, I'm sure people on these boards might get some ideas. Hmmmmm. I didn't even know Blood Feast, Gorgo and Kappa were public domain! Boy, if I had the money...
     
  6. Steve Armbrust

    Steve Armbrust Second Unit

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    Doing a internet search on public domain movies returns a a lot of sites like this. The going rate seems to be about $500. But it's harder to get information about the quality of the transfer.
     
  7. Mark Philp

    Mark Philp Second Unit

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    There are three companies, that I know of, who specialize in selling tape masters of PD films to TV stations, cable channels (major ones) and DVD distributors. I won't name them because they absolutely won't sell to individuals, but you can probably find them on the internet. They do the copyright research and track down the 16mm and 35mm prints used to make the masters. They don't restore the films, but usually do a cleanup of the prints before transfering them to tape.
    There are a number of PD titles that have been restored by companies like Criterion.
    Not being a lawyer I don't know if a restoration qualifies for a new copyright.
     

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