I’ve been asked to put together a Free Culture Film Festival as part of Waterloo Region’s Software Freedom Day Celebration this Saturday. This year Software Freedom Day is brought to you by the KWLUG in co-operation with The Working Centre.
I wasn’t sure what I would be able to find, and as it turns out, my biggest problem wasn’t how little was available, but how much.
I wanted to present a varied selection of films that qualify as Free Culture for different reasons.
For information about the #SFD Presentations, Workshops and Installfest visit the KWLUG Software Freedom Day page.
All activities are free of charge unless you are purchasing computer equipment during the Installfest.
10:00am “Charade” (1963) ~ Copyright Never Happened
Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn (113 min)
In 1963 American copyright required registration. One of the requirements was that any work to be protected by copyright had to be properly identified as such. What should have been the copyright notice included in the opening credits of the movie Charade failed to include the word “copyright” or the abbreviation “copr” or the © symbol, which meant Charade was inadvertently published directly into the public domain the moment it was released.
But although the film itself is in the Public Domain, any artwork and publicity material may or may not be, so for the purposes if this screening, it was safer for not to use an official movie poster, but to instead cobble together my own with images taken directly from the film. I have in turn released my poster directly into the Public Domain with the Creative Commons CC0 license.
My DVD copy of Charade was a bonus feature included with one of the the Charade remakes, The Truth About Charlie. Since Charade is in the public domain, no royalties would be required for a film that choses to do this. In fact, when I bought the DVD I had no idea if I would like the remake, but it was worth risking because to replace my Charade VHS with a DVD.
12:00pm Harold Lloyd: “Never Weaken” ~ Copyright Expired
Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis ~ running time: 29 minutes
Silent screen film maker and movie star Harold Lloyd co-starring with his leading lady (and later wife) Mildred Davis in Never Weaken. This was the last short film he ever – all his subsequent films were feature films.
Harold Lloyd continued making films even when they started talking, and he retained copyright to his work. Lloyd’s films enjoyed only very limited re-release due to his stringent demands: he insisted his silent movies had to be accompanied by organ, not piano; he demanded $300,000 for 2 showings of his films on television. This had the effect of pulling his work out of the public eye, with the result his work is largely forgotten today.
American films released prior to 1923 have expired which is why all his early works are in the Public Domain. Lloyd was careful to keep all his work under copyright, so his subsequent work is protected by copyright for 95 years due to the Sonny Bono copyright extension.
12:30pm “His Girl Friday” ~ Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell (92 min) Copyright Expired
Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell ~ running time: 92 min
His Girl Friday is a derivative work; this is one of many remakes of the successful stage play, “The Front Page.” The original story was about two men; this version made Hildie and Walter an ex-wife and husband. Although it failed to be a huge hit, apparently because audiences thought Cary Grant too much of a light weight for the part, for me, this is the version I like best.
As a result, the studio couldn’t be bothered to renew its copyright. I think at least part of His Girl Friday’s later success on television, video and now DVD formats may well be due to urs Public Domain status. Judging by images on the Internet, it has also enjoyed no small success as a live theatre production. In many ways, this version resonates better with modern audiences.
2:00pm The Fleischer Animated “Superman” ~ Copyright Expired
Fleischer Studios animated Superman short ~ running time: 11 minutes
To my mind, the best film animation of the early part of the 20th Century was produced by the Fleischer Studios Inc., who were also responsible for technical innovations like the rotoscope and sync sound animation. Although Betty Boop and Popeye are their most famous creations, Brothers Max (producer) and Dave (director) Fleischer produced 9 Superman shorts in 1941 and 1942. Unfortunately there was a huge personal falling out between the brothers (ostensibly begun over Dave’s adulterous affair with a secretary) which resulted in their distributor Paramount taking over their business. With Dave Fleischer out of the picture, the remaining Superman films in the series were directed by Dan Gordon, I. Sparber and Max Fleisher’s son-in-law Seymour Kneitel and produced by the re-branded Famous Studios.
2:15pm Sintel ~ Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
The Durian Open Movie Project ~ running time: 14 min
Blender began as 3D animation proprietary software, but a few years ago the corporation that developed it decided to free the software, and they haven’t looked back since. Sintel is the third Blender film made to demonstrate the capabilities of the software. This one is my personal favorite, both because it’ gorgeous and I like dragons. Since the Blender software has benefited from emancipation, it is hardly surprising to find these films were released with a Free Culture license (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0) right from the start.
2:30pm “Sita Sings The Blues“~ emancipated by Nina Paley
Nina Paley‘s classical animation feature film ~ running time: 82 min
Nina Paley’s original vision for Sita Sings The Blues included the public domain recordings by Annette Hanshaw to form the musical score. As it turned out, big media driven “copyright reforms” retroactively extended the copyright term for the sync rights (the particular rights necessary when using recorded music in a film). The long and the short of it is that Nina Paley had to pay gigantic sums to acquire these rights to release her film.
“Having paid these extortionate fees, I could have gone with conventional distribution, and was invited to. I chose to free the film because I could see that would be most beneficial to me, my film, and culture at large. A CC-SA license does not absolve a creator of compliance with copyright law. The law could have sent me to prison for non-commercial copyright infringement. I was forced to borrow $70,000 to decriminalize my film, regardless of how I chose to release it.”
~ Nina Paley, “Correction”
As Nina continued to question copyright, she decided to take it to the next level, and so she has since released this wonderful film into the Public Domain.
3:50pm Superman:“The Billion Dollar Limited” ~ Copyright Expired
Why we need Free Culture (in case you didn’t know…)
In the beginning human beings lived in a Free Culture world. If a writer published a play, or an author a novel, this new creative work left his private domain (his mind, home or working space) and entered the Public Domain. Anyone who saw the play performed was free to be inspired to remake it as a new creative work, or to mount their own production of it as is. Anyone who read a book could quote from it or copy it and even sell their own copies if they wanted to.
The grandmother of copyright law was the “Statute of Anne” enacted by Queen Anne in 1710. In spite of the name, “copyright” is a state imposed monopoly, not a “right.” In exchange for limiting the public’s right to copy, learn and share our culture, the copyright monopoly was supposed to encourage good creators to create works to benefit our culture. And maybe it worked that way once. Although originally limited to books, the scope of copyright has spread like cancer to nearly every form of human creativity, and the “limited” terms are so long most of my own culture will be “protected” until long after I am dead. And creators still can’t make a living from their work.
Today’s technology makes it possible for anyone to create our own digital work. Every cell phone is a camera, every school child has access to computers; that’s all you need to make movies. But the minefield of potential copyright infringement and criminalization is enormous. Copyright law is a tangled mess of law written differently in every country, and it can be used against anyone who uses any digital device. We must understand copyright basics for our own protection. Because today copyright law is used to “protect” our own culture from us.
Anything we are free to use as we like is all that remains of Free Culture; everything else is a legal risk. In today’s copyright mad world, creative works that have been Licensed To Share and works in the Public Domain are two sources of Free Culture that we can use legally.
UPDATE: I’ve provided links to all the Free Culture films I presented in LibreTea and Free Culture