The whole thing is fascinating, and a model of clarity. Copyright law may be a byzantine subject, but in the case of George Bailey, it would prove very significant. “It’s a Wonderful Life” wasn’t critically acclaimed or popular when it first came out. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. There has been a disturbing trend by some copyright owners to assert protection in an element of a public domain work. Like hundreds of other movies with lapsed copyrights — the original “A Star Is Born” (1937) and “Royal Wedding” National Telefilm Associates took over the rights to the film soon thereafter. Learn how your comment data is processed. But did you know that the latter lead to the former? The copyright in the original story had been properly renewed and was now held by Republic Pictures. This included key rights to the original television syndication, the original nitrate film elements, the music score, and the film rights to the story on which the film is based, "The Greatest Gift". deal granting NBC exclusive rights to air the film, how a copyright mistake put it into the public domain and also helped create the modern zombie genre, Revoking Degrees: How and Why Schools Do It, Self Plagiarism, Ethics and the Case of Jonah Lehrer, Kamala Harris and the 1776 Report: Two More Plagiarism Stories, Why You Don’t Punish the Whole Class to Stop Plagiarism, Geshin Impact Developer Revokes Fan Art Prize Over Plagiarism. It became well known only after its copyright expired and TV stations began airing it. But since I don’t have the millions it would cost to argue this in court, it’s a moot point. The Digital Reader is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. In the scene where the Bailey Building and … Well, that’s because in 1998 Paramount acquired Spelling Entertainment and its Republic Pictures subsidiary, owner (via prior acquisitions) of the film rights to Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 story “The Greatest Gift,” on which the It’s a Wonderful Life screenplay is based. The tale starts with a short story called The Greatest Gift (on which It’s A Wonderful Life is based), and it ends with the copyright for the story trumping the copyright for the movie. After he died, Woolrich’s estate renewed the copyright but did not renew the movie rights deal (despite Woolrich’s stated intentions of doing so), instead, it sold those rights to Abend for $650. With James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell. This movie is in the public domain. It’s A Wonderful Life has become a holiday tradition bolstered by near constant plays on television as the film fell into the public domain in 1975. It grew from an obscure 1940s film to a holiday classic and became a staple of many families’ holiday traditions. It’s a film and a message that many, myself included, grew up with and something that was a near-constant presence during the holiday season. of It’s a Wonderful Life film clips, accompanied by Weisensel’s music, introduced scenes while sets shifted in, then stayed on the screen upstage as stills (The Old Granville House, for instance, or the main street in the town). In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group. However, if you listen closely, you can also hear traces of the … Get it as soon as Mon, Jan 18. 4.9 out of 5 stars 109. Someone forgot to renew the copyright on It’s A Wonderful Life, and as a result this classic movie was free for any TV channel to broadcast – which they did, time after time after time after time, right up until 1993. It’s the holiday season, which for many means it is time for their annual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. The ionic story was once a mainstay of the holiday season, re-running on television, ad nauseum, from the end of November until the start of the new year. So, > what's the story on the change in music ? […], Your email address will not be published. None of that is a criticism of the film it is, in fact, the very reason why this movie is so brilliant. Ink, Bits, & Pixels brought us the story. 99. That’s because the copyright in the film has a story very much akin to George Bailey’s, one of birth, death, finding success and then being allowed to live again. I am just a legally-minded Webmaster/Writer frustrated with the plague of plagiarism online and doing something about it. For Republic Pictures, this was an opportunity to reclaim control of its film. That’s when someone laid claim to the copyright again, arguing that because they owned the copyright to the story which It’s A Wonderful Life is based on, they also controlled the movie as well. TV networks, eager for cheap holiday-oriented content, latched on to the film and began to play it during the holiday season. Directed by Frank Capras, it’s the timeless tale of a man named George Bailey, played by James Stewart, who hits rock bottom on Christmas Eve and is granted, by his guardian angel, a chance to see what life for his friends and family would be like if he had never been born. In 1993, Republic Pictures began to send out notice of copyright claim letters to TV networks, cable stations and anyone else who might have sought to distribute or display the film. Frank Capra's holiday classic from 1946; original uncut version. Please check your email to confirm your subscription! Facebook Twitter Required fields are marked *. For years, anyone … It's a Wonderful Life (1946) cast and crew credits, including actors, actresses, directors, writers and more. But it was in the public domain that the film saw a revival. If you spend enough time in copyright circles, you know the story of the copyright on the iconic film It's A Wonderful Life. Perhaps the best known film in the genre “Holiday Inn” was released in 1942. It’s A Wonderful Life, Thanks To A Copyright Snafu. On the other, the film only became a holiday classic because of near-constant airplay that was made possible by it being in the public domain and Republic, by reclaiming and enforcing the rights, has severely curtailed what, for many, has been a long-standing holiday tradition. Even though it’s a musical, it’s the type of film most commonly associate with “holiday movies”. The synopsis of this week’s Touched by an Angel?No, but it is the basis for Frank Capra’s heartwarming 1946 holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) dreams of seeing the world and having a grand impact on it. At the end of the film, Bailey chooses to live again and races home to a happy ending that is one of the best-known scenes in all of film history. It's a Wonderful Life is not particularly complex, deep or stylistically marvelous. It’s a bust of a film that lapsed into the public domain on accident and then found a huge following due to repeated airplay. For example, the film It’s a Wonderful Life fell into the public domain because of a failure to renew copyright. The film, despite being headlined by James Stewart, one of the biggest actors at the time, was not a commercial success. It’s also clear that the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is atypical of its peers. It's a Wonderful Life has cemented itself as a staple of the American Christmas season. Because it was public domain, it became a cheap thing to show on TV during the holidays, and over the years, this new audience made it a classic. But whether you feel Republic Pictures is simply reclaiming what is rightfully its or spoiling a cherished tradition out of greed, the one thing that is clear is that holiday television is not the same as it was 30 years ago because of this and the case serves as another example of how copyright impacts culture just as much as culture impacts copyright. After several screenwriters worked on adaptations, RKO sold the rights to the story in 1945 to Frank Capra 's production company for the same $10,000, which he adapted into It's a Wonderful Life. A kind man, overwhelmed by life’s trials, is visited by a heavenly messenger and gains a new lease on life. That meant that in 1974, It’s a Wonderful Life would need renewed protection by its original copyright holders at Republic Pictures (then known as NTA, the National Telefilm Associates). Because the movie is no longer under copyright, any television station that can get its hands on a print of the movie can show it, at no cost, as often as it wants to. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of the great holiday classics. Copyright Office. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. Find It's a Wonderful Life on NBC.com and the NBC App. It's a Wonderful Life is a sentimental favorite... in part because of Jimmy Stewart, but also because no one ever bothered to file the papers to extend the copyright on the movie. […] The video at the top of this piece is 21 minutes long, but is actually very interesting, and well worth watching. Those are the broad strokes of this movies history, which can be found in Techdirt, Wikipedia, and elsewhere. I am not a lawyer and nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice. There are two ways to look at this story and how you feel about it depends largely on the approach you take. The original 28-year copyright for “It’s a Wonderful Life” expired in 1975, but Republic failed to file for a 28-year renewal, as the copyright law then allowed. However, that never happened with “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It’s a Wonderful Life was then yanked back from the public domain and there were new restrictions controlling who viewed the film, when and for how … FilmMaker IQ posted a video in December which lays out the circuitous route which this movie took over the past 70 years, and its unique place in US copyright law. Liberty Films was purchased by Paramount Pictures, and remained a subsidiary until 1951. DISSOLVE: 3 EXT. I thought the copyright lapsed after 28 years because > someone forgot to renew the copyright, and that's why the networks glommed > onto it as a Christmas show for years, because of its p.d. There was no fee, so a lot of stations aired it year after year, and people slowly began liking it. As I remember the story, it was very unsuccessful in its original release and the copyright wasn't renewed. It truly is "A Wonderful Life" !Closing scene from the movie - Its A Wonderful Life But he caught a bad cold which infected his left ear. When it comes to copyright, the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is pretty unique. The movie, like its protagonist, has certainly had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s clear that Republic Pictures is working to make the most of it. Under the US’s old copyright law, a work had to be renewed for a second 28 year term or it fell into the public domain. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart film, the 1954 movie “Rear Window”. © 2005-2021 Plagiarism Today All Rights Reserved, debuted in 1946 and was based on a short story, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart film, in a move akin to copyright termination today, Republic Pictures began to send out notice of copyright claim letters. Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. Abend sued because aforementioned renewal clause was not just a tool to extend copyright but, in a move aki… Previously, I talked about the movie “Night of the Living Dead” and how a copyright mistake put it into the public domain and also helped create the modern zombie genre. In other words, Republic determined that It's a Wonderful Life had not really fallen into the public domain after all--they didn't find out for 20 years and so public television stations and others had been allowed to broadcast the film without permission. Abend sued because aforementioned renewal clause was not just a tool to extend copyright but, in a move akin to copyright termination today, was an opportunity for creators to renegotiate contracts and terms based upon changes in the marketplace. As a result, in 1974, the film lapsed into the public domain. It’s A Wonderful Life holds a special place in American culture, and as I’m sure you know it also holds  a special place in US copyright law. Under the US’s old copyright law, a work had to be renewed for a second 28 year term or … On one hand, you can look at it from the perspective of Republic Pictures and those who made the film. In 1994, Republic Pictures signed a “long-term” deal granting NBC exclusive rights to air the film, which the station typically does only a handful of times each year. But in the 90s, a studio would regain control over the film and put copyright to the test. I suggest that if he could remake "its a wonderful life" he would make many changes. A guardian angel strengthens a man (James Stewart) ruined by a miser (Lionel Barrymore). Combined with their recent acquisition of the music rights to the film, the company had the rights to both the music and movie’s story, effectively granting them control of the film. The case, Stewart v. Abend, pitted a production company co-owned by James Stewart against a literary agent, heldon Abend, who purchased the rights to many movies and stories, including the rights to “It Had to Be Murder”, a story by Cornell Woolrich, which the film “Rear Window” was based upon. ? FREE Shipping on orders over $25 shipped by Amazon. An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed. There are no rights to lay claim to at that point, given that the work now belongs to everyone and no one (that’s the point of the public domain). status. In 1955, M. & A. Alexander purchased the movie. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. Though near-constant airplay, the film found something it hadn’t before, an audience. Plagiarism Today is a website aimed at webmasters and other creators to help them address the issues of plagiarism, copyright infringement and other forms of content misuse online. Where it once seemed to be on a constant loop during December, it’s now only shown a few times per year. Amazon's Choice for its a wonderful life collectibles. The case, Stewart v. Abend, pitted a production company co-owned by James Stewart against a literary agent, heldon Abend, who purchased the rights to many movies and stories, including the rights to “It Had to Be Murder”, a story by Cornell Woolrich, which the film “Rear Window” was based upon. Klikel Christmas Bell Ornament with Angel Wing and Heart Charms - It's A Wonderful Life Bell Ornament- Memorial Gift. However, when its copyright lapsed it became a massive Christmas favorite beloved of millions. I am not a lawyer. To them, the copyright in the film lapsed due to nothing more than what was likely a clerical error and it went on to become a holiday classic, making millions for TV stations, all without doing anything to recoup the film’s costs or support the people who invested in the film or otherwise made it possible. Initially I thought John Hess’s way of speaking might drive me crazy, but his precise delivery is actually appropriate to the legal subject matter. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart film, the 1954 movie “Rear Window”. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. In short, though the film itself is in the public domain, the story and music are not, making it impossible to show the film in its entirety on television without permission from the copyright holders, in this case, Republic Pictures. It’s a wonderful copyright life | Making Book, Blogmas Day Ten: Christmas Films and Music |. The newly-returned owners were thus able to stop any unauthorized … Even when you look at the films that lapsed into the public domain, most never found a second life or a first audience, regardless of airplay or free distribution. Your email address will not be published. An entire genre of knockoffs and clones never followed it. However, regardless of whether Republic forgot or simply didn’t feel the film was worth renewing, that renewal was not filed. It’s a Wonderful Life entered the public domain by accident. $14.99 $ 14. Cost him his hearing in that ear. It’s A Wonderful Life did not make a major mark on the box office when it was released and won a single Oscar for its special effects. George saved his brother's life that day. Under copyright law at the time, a work was protected for 28 years but that copyright protection could trivially be extended for another 28 by paying a small fee and filing a form with the U.S. Could > you explain please? Directed by Frank Capra. “It’s a Wonderful Life” debuted in 1946 and was based on a short story, “The Greatest Gift”, which was written by Phillip Van Doren Stern in 1939. When the film later aired on television, Abend sued Stewart and the case reached the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in favor of Abend and upheld the rights the new rightsholder in the work. After that, it managed to find itself back under copyright protection and in a position to exploit the work once thought to be out of copyright forever. Signup to get FREE Daily updates on copyright and plagiarism news. The best and worst things that ever happened to "It's a Wonderful Life" are that it fell out of copyright protection and into the shadowy no-man's-land of the public domain. However, many have noted that the once-constant playing of the film has slowed to a trickle. It’s one of the most bizarre tails in copyright history and one that has changed the way families all over the world celebrate the holidays. It was weeks before he could return to his after-school job at old man Gower's drugstore. Whether they saw no value in the movie or simply made a clerical error, Republic Pictures failed to extend its copyright and allowed It’… Originally released in 1946, It’s A Wonderful Life was a marginally successful movie which passed into the public domain in the early 1970s following a snafu with its renewal paperwork. Because the current copyright owners of It’s a Wonderful Life still owned the movie rights of the original story on which the movie is based, the current copyright owners argued that their rights to the story told in It’s a Wonderful Life still existed and were enforceable to prevent unauthorized showing of the movie in its current form. At the time the movie was filmed and released, under the Copyright Act of 1909, U.S. copyright protection lasted 28 years from publication with proper notice or registration, and could be renewed for an additional 28 years by filing a proper renewal registration with the Copyright Office. Yet this was not the end of the story – or really the beginning. This is in part because the “holiday” genre of films was already well established by the time “It’s a Wonderful Life” was produced. The film, in its time, was largely forgotten and that includes the original copyright holders in the film, Republic Pictures. For the nitty gritty detail, watch this movie. Just like that, the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” TV marathons was over, for better or worse. I send out an email on book publishing three times a week and publish a fortnightly newsletter about WordPress and related web tech. Today is International Verify Your Backups Day, Kobo Inks Distribution Deal With Writing Community Widbook. According to the 1909 Copyright Act, creative works were protected for 28 years at a time. Movie Review. I don’t know about you, but I remain unconvinced that one can lay claim to the copyright of a derivative work after that work has lapsed into the public domain. This is how the film was played for nearly 20 years and it could have stayed that way forever, if an unrelated copyright case had not changed the course of its history forever. … Originally released in 1946, It’s A Wonderful Life was a marginally successful movie which passed into the public domain in the early 1970s following a snafu with its renewal paperwork. The Best Things in Life are Free Music by Ray Henderson (as Henderson) Lyrics by Buddy G. DeSylva (as DeSylva) and Lew Brown (as Brown) Get the IMDb App. > I'm curious about Wonderful Life being recopyrighted based on music. The story was first published as a book in December 1944, with illustrations by Rafaello Busoni. Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart, one of the great holiday classics thus able stop... In 1942 ’ s a Wonderful Life entered the public domain by accident best known film the. Clear that the story of “ it ’ s a Wonderful Life ” TV marathons was over for... 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