Wednesday, July 11, 2012

(c) 2012 and a half...


I now have the official, required Library of Congress copyright investigation complete so that the Long-Forgotten Movie can be digitally duplicated.

Except, well (using Facebook relationship status-ese) -- it's complicated.

The investigator discovered that, yes, the Famous Rocket Company applied for a copyright, but that was for an *unpublished* work - - almost a year after they donated the film to the Not Very Famous Museum. The museum had already shown the film to close to THREE MILLION cash-paying visitors, so it was hardly "unpublished" anymore. By the timeline, the Famous Rocket Company was trying to copyright a work it had already given away. Based on this history, the Library of Congress researcher declared the film's copyright "questionable."

The Famous Rocket Company listed the Famous Director as "author" but since it's a work-for-hire, that probably takes care of the Famous Director part of the copyright claim equation. 

I feel like an astronaut with a bad comb-over,desperately trying to pry open a VHS tape with a butter knife before re-entry.
So now, the only remaining hurdles are getting something called a "quit-claim" from both the Famous Rocket Company and the Not Very Famous Museum. I've already written to the Famous Rocket Company, asking them to please dismiss their invalid copyright application, so that I can help the Library of Congress preserve this film. If (and yes, that's a huge "if") I can get that particular piece of paper, I'm going to ask the Not Very Famous Museum to do likewise, as they've already thrown out their only copies of the film and they've obviously shown no interest in saving this film anyway. My guess is that the museum is going to take a much longer time to resolve, as no one there seems to want to be in charge of legal matters like copyrights.

It's going to be a long summer. Hope for the best.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

(c) 2012

I'm writing a book based, in part, on my Master's thesis. Since it's going to be a commercial book, and since there's a chance the subject is actually fascinating, I can't talk about too many details.

Let's use generic phrases so I can talk to you about one part of the research for this book. A long time ago, a Rocket Ship Company hired a Famous Director to make a movie about rocket ships. The Rocket Ship Company donated the movie to a Not Very Famous Museum.

Next, the Rocket Ship Company submitted a copyright notice to the US Copyright Office. Meanwhile, the Rocket Ship Company didn't notice that the Famous Director had put a copyright notice ("copyright (c)Famous Director") under the title of the movie - - right *in* the movie! 

Later on (but still back in the 1970s) the Not Very Famous Museum decided to toss the movie (and all materials related to the movie) into a dumpster. The only existing, complete copy of the film resided at the Library of Congress vault in Culpepper, Virginia.

Decades fly by, and now it's 2012, and I want to get a digital copy of this Library of Congress copy of the movie to finish writing my book. In order to get a copy of this movie (by a Famous Director), I'll have to pay several hundred dollars for a transfer to HD video. But FIRST... I have to determine: who holds the copyright?

Turns out there are agencies in and around the Copyright Office who handle this kind of stuff. So I hired a copyright private eye to figure it all out.

Here are the possible scenarios:

1) The film has no parents - so it's an orphaned film in the public domain (best thing evarrr!)

2) The Rocket Ship Company holds the copyright - could be okay, because I know some people who run the Rocket Ship Company's museum and maybe they'll sign a quitclaim for me. Hooray!

3) The estate of the Famous Director (in this case, a University library) - could be HUGE trouble, because the folks who work at the University archive think everything the Famous Director made must be worth MILLIONS, I tell ya! MILLIONS! (possible worst-case scenario).

4) Not Very Famous Museum holds the copyright - unlikely (they never filed with the Copyright Office) but if they get ownership, it's going to be a big problem because nobody, and I mean NOBODY there understands the slightest thing about quitclaims or intellectual property or making decisions about stuff they didn't know they had. I think I worry about this one more than Option 3.

So, hopefully I'll have a handle on this by Friday. If not, it'll be a very long weekend.