Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Odd Sighting

So I bought myself a copy of the 75th anniversary edition DVD of Dracula with a gift card I was given by my sister for my 40th birthday. I'll talk later about my opinion of the film after having watched it for the first time in probably decades, but I wanted to quickly mention something I noticed when I looked at the DVD.

The film was released in 1931 by Universal Studios and includes a note indicating, "Copyright 1931, Universal Studios," as you'd expect. This is followed by "Renewed 1958 by Universal Studios." Now, I know of the existence of copyright renewal. However, this is the first time I recall a renewal notice being stated like that. I'm not sure whether a renewal notice is required by law or not. I'm assuming it isn't, since I so rarely see such things. Or maybe I'm just not very observant. In any case, I found it interesting and more than a little wistful about a world in which Universal Studios actually had to apply for a copyright renewal 28 years after one of its films was released.


  1. :)

    (once upon a time...)

  2. In books, if you look, they do list copywrites for each edition and printing, so it's possible it is required.

    Also, 1958 is, I believe, the release year of Hammer Horror's Dracula. That might have something to do with it.

  3. Heh... helps if I read the full post, sorry. No; there was no need to add that full text but it's a subtle hint to anyone not to presume copyright wasn't renewed (under that previous scheme).

  4. It's sad that we have to be wistful for a world where copyright renewal has to be requested. How small our hopes are. I am wishful for a world where that request would be refused.

    Word verification: Baron. Which shall be my rank for the rest the day. Kneel!

  5. Just an aside, but at the Halloween party I went to they were projecting the Mexican Dracula on a wall in the bar. You know, the Hispanic version they filmed on the sets at night, using the English script.

    I really wish I had the chance to check out more of that version, just out of doo dah curiousity. I heard the it's available on some DVD version. Is it on the 75th Anniversary disk, James?

  6. Yep, the Spanish language version of Dracula is one of the special features on the second disc of the set. I haven't watched it yet, though.

  7. The Spanish version has better cinematography, but the actor who played Dracula was a little cheesey. I love the original Dracula, eventhough it departs from the text of the original story. I've got the version with the Chronos Quartet performing the soundtrack.

  8. The copyright extentions in this country are largely to protect Mickey Mouse. The most recent expansion was the Sonny Bono act. I always find the idea of Sonny Bono rushing to save Mickey Mouse amusing when I read a case involving it.

  9. A much better policy, copyright renewal.

  10. "A much better policy, copyright renewal."

    I wouldn't mind 10 year copyright + 10 year renewals (for 1000 years if you like), but if renewals could be refused because copyright owners do not care to keep a book/music/image in print.

    It is pretty much retarded, to make people criminals because they CAN'T buy your stuff (A problem i stumble upon every day when searching for books)

  11. The long term extensions to copyrights also fly in the face of one of the main justifications for IP monopolies when the holders keep something out of print.

    On a whole the American legal system is strongly opposed to all monopolies. We make an exception for cases where granting a monoploy is the only way to encourage people to work in a field. People will not sink years into creating music, art and written work if anyone can copy it the first time it is revealed. People will not spend years of research to invent a new mechanism if everyone can make it as soon as they see it. We allow an author or an inventor to, for a time, have a monopoly on the use of their work. But in doing this we have taken something from the public, a set of knowledge for which we have restricted their use. We do this in the name of advancing the art or science in use.

    When we let someone have a copyright for a long period of time without keeping their work in print it is not helping to advance the art because people can not find it to make the next step.

  12. I'm sorry rmckee, but the reason for copyrights, and what it's being used for now are now parsecs apart.

    People invented stuff before artificial monopolies, and they would afterward.

  13. I agree, I do not think that they are as needed as they have been made out to be. Many great inventions have not been patented and people still took the time to invent them. But what I stated has long been the main justification for allowing that monopoly when we do not allow monopolies in general. The fact that they are not needed does not change the fact that it has long been the reason given for having them.

    Quid pro quo is at the heart of IP policy and is the main argument in patent enablement and novelty cases even today.

    When we allow long term copyright protection without the work being published it flies in the face of the very reason for allowing those monopolies in the first place. You are taking something from the public and giving nothing in return.

    Obviously, especially with copyrights, the law has been manipulated in recent years to be a real boon to corporations that hold many copyrights. Copyrights that they may not keep active all at once. But this does not change the fact that the whole reason we have those monoplies in the first place is:

    "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

    If you feel that current IP laws do not serve that quote an argument can be made that any copyright or patent legislation that is not "promoting the progress of science and useful arts" is unconstitutional. If enough people felt that way they could get the law changed. With the right court (probably not this one) you might be able to get it declared unconstitutional.

  14. I'm strongly in favor of copyrights, for creators. I think they should be able to hold and renew as long as they like. As far as non-creators holding copyrights, I think I would allow them a single term, non-renewable, before the work goes into the public domain.
    There are a great many works that the current owners simply sit on instead of keeping them in print.
    Hoarding results in these works being forgotten and lost. No one gains by that.

  15. This is actually fairly close to how it works with a dead creator or a copyright for work for hire etc. The actual law is fairly complex because it matters when the original copyright was obtained and there are a few other factors. The main problem is they keep altering the statute to extend how long the term is. I am not kidding when I say that Mickey Mouse plays a role in determining how long copyrights should last. Also, sadly there is no requirement that the work only go so long without being published (well actually that does matter for a small set of things that fall between 1978 and 2002)

    You can see the relevant areas of the law in 17 USC 302, 303, and 304. Luckily our laws are not copyrighted so you can just google them.

  16. I think the notion that anyone should be given a legal monopoly on an idea is illogical. To enforce such a monopoly using monies taken from those excluded from using the ideas is outrageous. To inflict fines and imprisonment upon those who would make use of an idea is diabolical.

    I applaud those who challenge the "intellectual property" regime.

  17. Mass. this is narrow line we walk in IP law. You cannot get a monopoly on an idea or a discovery only on the expression of an idea or an invention. However, it can be a challenging line to draw. There are easy cases though.

    Newton could not get a patent on his laws of motion, he can however get a copyright on the book he writes instructing people on those laws.

    You can get a patent on a machine using the laws of relativity but not the laws themselves. Generally a patent has to be an invention, it cannot be something you discovered.

    Something you discovered is something that was already available to the public, generally policy prohibits taking it away. But there are business method patents that frankly I have a hard time justifying that they are not more akin to the laws of motion than to a book about those laws.

    It is also important to point out that our IP regime is different from many other countries'. It is far from the only way to do it.

    Challenging this regime is good for the health of our laws. Right now the very core of our patent laws is in debate. We may very well have a patent system very different from the current one in the next 10 years.

  18. I appreciate the distinction you're drawing, but I could substitute "expression of idea" for "idea" in my previous post without a problem.

    Like most laws, those surrounding copyrights and patents are designed to benefit a few politically empowered parasites at the expense of the rest of us. In this case, it comes in the form of a grant of monopoly control over a non-scarce good.

  19. I have to wonder sometimes if the Gygax and Arneson estates would ever 20 years from now attempt to revoke the copyright assignment of D&D, similar to how the Seigel and Shuster families have been doing with Superman and what the Jack Kirby estate has been attempting with Marvel).

    (That's assuming that they could do so--depending on what contracts were signed, both at the time of creation and the other deals made between the men and TSR over the years--and it would likely only apply to the white box set, since works created after 1976 don't have that protection.)

  20. John: The copyright to D&D isn't really worth that much, since 4E shares almost no copyrighted content with OD&D. What's valuable is the trademarks, and they don't expire so long as you keep using them and prevent them from being genericized.

  21. For those who haven't already read them, I humbly recommend Thomas Macaulay's speeches to Parliament (1841) on this subject of copyright:

    So something intended to free knowledge has been perverted into something to limit it. Why am I so surprised.

  22. Somebody had to remind Oregon that laws are NOT copyrightable...
    Certainly the current massive duration seems a little draconian.

  23. To say the relationship between states and federal law in this country is a complicated one would be a massive understatement.